'Smelly' sewer escape bid by PolyU protesters ends in arrest

'Smelly' sewer escape bid by PolyU protesters ends in arrest

hong kong sewer
A member of the fire service shines a torch light to illuminate the inside of a sewer at the campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Nov 20, 2019. (Photo: AFP / Anthony WALLACE)

HONG KONG: Some anti-government protesters trapped inside a Hong Kong university on Wednesday (Nov 20) tried to flee through the sewers, where one student said she saw snakes, but firemen prevented further escape bids by blocking a manhole into the system.

Police said six people were arrested - four of them removing a manhole cover outside the campus and lowering ropes and another two climbing out.

Reuters witnesses said fewer than 100 protesters remained inside the Polytechnic University, ring-fenced 24 hours a day by riot police and barricades, after more than 1,000 were arrested from late on Monday.

Some surrendered while others were held during escape attempts that included trying to clamber down ropes to waiting motorbikes on Monday night, with protesters throwing petrol bombs and police responding with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.

READ: Options narrow for last Hong Kong campus protesters as arrests take a toll

Protests in Hong Kong
A protester tries to escape through a sewage tunnel inside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus during protests in Hong Kong, China, November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

FILE PHOTO: Anti-government protests in Hong Kong
Anti-government protesters look inside a sewer as they look for an escape route in an underground carpark at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Nov 20, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

The streets were quiet on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Protesters, wearing waterproof boots and carrying torches, resurfaced inside the campus after unsuccessfully probing the sewers - where fast-rising water levels are also a hazard - for a way out during the night.


Firefighters, whom the students let on to the campus, were in place to stop any further such attempts to flee, blocking the only feasible entrance into the sewer system in an underground car park on the campus.

Protesters have scouted out the drainage system for two days - with desperation and rumours of successful escapes prompting students to try the dangerous underground route.

Those trying to flee via sewers took torches, rope, first aid kits and water and tried to use weak phone signals to track their progress. Some groups also carried spray cans - marking the tunnels for other groups.

A rescue diver enters the sewer to search for anti-government protesters
A rescue diver enters the sewer to search for anti-government protesters who tried to escape from the besieged Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China, Nov 19, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

FILE PHOTO: Anti-government protests in Hong Kong
A sewer is pictured as anti-government protesters look for an escape route in an underground carpark at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Nov 20, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

"The sewer was very smelly, with many cockroaches, many snakes. Every step was very, very painful," said Bowie, a student at Hong Kong University who was forced to turn back.

"I’d never thought that one day I would need to hide in a sewer or escape through sewers to survive ... The most unforgettable feeling is the fear when I was inside."

The 21-year-old said that she and others had tried various ways to flee the campus besieged by police, but none of them made it out.

"This time we truly think we need to fight, or we die, so we went into the sewer."

She said she and friends were in the dirty water for about an hour, only to find they were no closer to escape.

"When we reached the end, we found we were still in the poly," she said.


The city's fire service said that as of Wednesday evening, "no person has been found trapped inside the (sewer) system."

"The distance looks short above ground but time becomes slow downstairs," said another tunneller, Sun, 22, a part time clerk.

The university on the Kowloon peninsula is the last of five that protesters had occupied to use as bases from which to disrupt the city over the past 10 days, blocking the central Cross-Harbour Tunnel and other arteries.

“This mission is a loss,” said Brutus, 21, who became a protest frontliner in August. He and his girlfriend were taking a break to eat an orange, a Snickers bar and hard boiled eggs in one of the classrooms.

“After all of the things that happened, I don’t think protesters taking control of the universities was a good option. We don’t have gear like the police. We are not well-organised like the police.”

Medics past by a resuscitation mannequin in the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong
Medics past by a resuscitation mannequin in the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Nov 20, 2019. (Photo: AP/Ng Han Guan)

Brutus said he also felt bad about damage to the university. Breaking the CCTV cameras was fine, he said, because that was about protecting people. But other damage was wrong - especially to the library.

“We are here to learn. Now we can’t pass those books to the students coming in next year. That is a great loss.”

He and his girlfriend left to look for a way to escape.

ROTTEN FOOD

Police said nearly 800 people had left the campus peacefully by late on Tuesday and they would be investigated, including nearly 300 under the age of 18. At least 24 were seen walking out on Wednesday.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has called for a humane end to a siege that saw the most intense clashes since the protests escalated more than five months ago.

Protesters are escorted by police and medical personnel after leaving the campus
Protesters are escorted by police and medical personnel after leaving the campus of the besieged Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China, Nov 20, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Police said they had no plans to storm the campus, now wrecked and daubed with graffiti, parts of it stinking of petrol used to make Molotov cocktails and rotten food, with broken glass everywhere. "Ideas are bulletproof," was spray-painted in a few places.

Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in freedoms promised to Hong Kong when the then British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. They say they are responding to excessive use of force by police.

The unrest marks the most serious popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

Protesters on the campus still have vast stocks of petrol bombs, bows and arrows and other makeshift weapons after a weekend of fiery clashes.


READ: Hong Kong primary, secondary schools to resume classes amid protests

Police tightened security around the university, making the streets safe enough for a late Tuesday visit by the force's new commissioner, Chris Tang, on his first day on the job.

Tang is under pressure to restore police morale as well as public confidence in a force that has come in for widespread criticism for increasingly violent tactics. Police deny using excessive force.

Police have made more than 5,000 arrests in connection with the protests since June.

A police officer watches the Polytechnic University entrance in Hong Kong
A police officer watches the Polytechnic University entrance in Hong Kong on Nov 20, 2019. (Photo: AP/Ng Han Guan)

The number of criminal damage cases reported between June and September was up 29.6 per cent on the same period last year, Commerce Secretary Edward Yau said in a written statement. Arson cases were up 57.4 per cent.

READ: China says Hong Kong courts have no power to rule on face mask ban

Commentary: Have the Hong Kong police lost control?

Chinese leaders say they are committed to Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" formula for autonomy and have accused foreign countries, including Britain and the United States, of stirring up trouble.

Ties between China and those two countries came under strain over Hong Kong on Wednesday.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned China’s treatment of Simon Cheng, a former employee of Britain’s Hong Kong consulate, who said secret police beat him seeking information about the protest movement.

"We were shocked and appalled by the mistreatment he suffered while in Chinese detention, which amounts to torture," Raab said, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Cheng had been detained for 15 days and had admitted fully to his offences. All of his legal rights were safeguarded, the spokesman said.

The US Senate unanimously passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which would require the secretary of state to certify at least once a year that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to qualify for special US trading consideration and would impose sanctions against officials responsible for rights violations.

A protester holds an American flag during a demonstration in the financial district in Hong Kong
A protester holds an American flag during a demonstration in the financial district in Hong Kong on Nov 20, 2019. (Photo: AP/Kin Cheung)

China summoned a representative of the US embassy in Beijing over the legislation and demanded that the United States stop meddling, the foreign ministry said.

The Hong Kong government expressed "deep regret" at the Bill.

The Hong Kong Open golf tournament, scheduled for Nov 28 to Dec 1, has been postponed, the Asian Tour and European Tour said.

Hong Kong-based employees at two units of Chinese brokerage Haitong Securities - Haitong Capital Investment and Haitong International - joined a clean-up of roads in a Kowloon district, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

Haitong Capital said employees who helped with the clean-up could go home afterwards. The company offered rubber gloves, one said.

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

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Source: Agencies/ec

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