Paper Cranes and Tear Gas Mark 20 Weeks of Hong Kong Protests

Pro-democracy protesters react after police fired tear gas in the Mong Kok district in Hong Kong on October 27, 2019. - Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets October 27 at pro-democracy protesters who defied authorities to hold a rally on Hong Kong's scenic harbourfront, the latest flashpoint in months …
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Police injured at least two journalists, flooded a pharmacy with tear gas, and used water cannons and rubber bullets against peaceful demonstrators in Hong Kong on Sunday, the 21st weekend since protests began in June.

Hundreds also gathered for a ceremony honoring those killed or injured during the protests since the movement began with folded paper cranes, which protesters have adopted as a symbol of the peaceful nature of the protests.

Protesters continue to demand the direct election of lawmakers, a probe into police brutality, freedom for political prisoners, and for the government to stop calling their peaceful marches “riots.” The government met the protest movement’s fifth demand: the full withdrawal of a bill that would have allowed the Chinese Communist Party to extradite anyone present in Hong Kong if accused of violating communist laws.

Multiple neighborhoods experienced disturbances as marchers gathered on Sunday to take the streets in the name of their demands. According to the Asian outlet Coconuts, police fired back at protesters – many violating a recently passed ordinance banning the use of face coverings in public – with tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets. Some protesters fired Molotov cocktails at police and vandalized businesses considered to be pro-Chinese.

“Riot officers discharged frequent volleys of tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets as well as water cannon, and officers were seen making multiple arrests throughout the day,” Coconuts reported. “In between the confrontations police found themselves routinely heckled with chants of ‘triads’ and ‘black cops,’ both by protesters and local residents.”

The protest movement began as a peaceful, millions-strong demonstration. The first incidents of violence occurred at the hands of white-shirted pro-China thugs who police later identified to be members of triads, Hong Kong’s organized crime gangs.

Coconuts described “cat-and-mouse” interactions between police and protesters and quoted some in the protest movement who stated that many had opted against large demonstrations on the streets in one location, instead coming out in smaller numbers but more neighborhoods.

“It may look like less people are coming out but it’s just that everyone is using different methods to support the movement,” a protesters Coconuts identified only as “Chan” told the outlet.

The South China Morning Post identified at least three neighborhoods that attracted such protests on Sunday: Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok, and Sham Shui Po. The protests reportedly began there but expanded to at least another four neighborhoods. It added that police shot one of its journalists with rubber bullets and arrested an unnamed freelance photographer. While Coconuts described the groups on the streets as smaller than the massive protests seen previously, the Post said hundreds were out in force in each neighborhood; similarly, hundreds of police took the streets against them.

The Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK condemned the police on Monday for attacking one of its journalists and attempting to rip a face mask off of them. The journalist, the outlet noted, was wearing a clearly identifiable media vest, as journalists are required to do to prevent them from facing attack from either side.

“Police’s unreasonable and rude behaviour deliberately hindered the media from recording the facts and seriously infringed on the freedom of the press,” RTHK’s Programme Staff Union said in a statement, adding that officers attacked the journalist whose face mask they removed with pepper spray, justifying the journalist’s reasoning for wearing a mask in the first place.

RTHK noted that the incident was particularly egregious given that it “happened during a lull in the protests, with few people and journalists in the area, and hardly any protesters around.”

In Yau Ma Tei, another of the affected neighborhoods, police reportedly flooded a pharmacy with tear gas. There is no evidence the pharmacy’s employees or owner were involved in protests and police apologized after footage of employees fleeing the pharmacy and covering their noses surfaced online.

“We already half-closed our shutter when the tear gas canister was thrown into our shop suddenly. We all ran outside. There weren’t many people on the streets but the police fired tear gas nevertheless,” the pharmacy owner, identified only by the last name “Wu,” told RTHK. Police visited on Monday and apologized for the attack, but offered no reason for why they flooded the pharmacy with tear gas and Wu said he still did not know why his business attracted a police attack.

The paper crane commemoration occurred in a separate neighborhood, Kwun Tong, and the Hong Kong Free Press reports it went on without incident. Organizers reportedly honored 19 individuals who had died since the protests began in June. It is not clear how many of these deaths are directly tied to the protests; several young protesters have committed suicide and left notes calling for freedom from China. Police have also injured dozens with tear gas and other crowd-control measures, including most prominently a young woman who was shot at close range in the eye with a bean bag round and reportedly lost sight in one of her eyes. As many protesters go to underground clinics to prevent being arrested while in the hospital, there is no fixed estimate of how many people police have been injured during protests.

China continues to accuse protesters with violence. The state newspaper Global Times condemned “violent rioters” for using umbrellas to defend themselves against the heavily armed riot police on Sunday, claiming police had no choice but to fire tear gas once again.

This month, prior to the official withdrawal of the extradition bill, Chief Executive Carrie Lam warned that she would, as a last resort, requested that the Chinese communist regime send its violent forces into Hong Kong to end the protests.

“At this point in time, I still strongly feel that we should find the solutions ourselves. It is also the position of the central government that Hong Kong should tackle the problem on her own,” Lam said. “But if the situation becomes so bad, then no options can be ruled out if we want Hong Kong to at least have another chance.”

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