Students trapped in Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University – the product of a police crackdown on “protesters” – enacted dramatic escapes late Monday night, hurling themselves over a bridge with a rope and hopping onto motorcycles to their freedom.
Others inspected the campus sewer systems, seeking a way out. While images of students crawling into the sewers to find an exit have surfaced, there are at press time no confirmed reports of individuals escaping through the sewers. Students may be keeping that information from the public to prevent police from shutting down that exit route, however.
Hong Kong police stormed Polytechnic University (PolyU) on Sunday, shutting down all roads into and out of the campus and arresting anyone attempting to leave. Authorities reportedly declared the entire campus a “riot zone” and all those inside rioters, including first responders and tourists. “Rioting” is a crime in Hong Kong punishable by as much as a decade in prison.
Authorities in the city have repeatedly referred to protesters as “rioters” since the pro-democracy movement erupted in June and exhibited a peaceful nature for months. Confrontations have become increasingly violent as police use tear gas, rubber bullets, and, on some occasions, live fire to subdue protesters.
Police similarly stormed the campus of Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) last week, going door-to-door in the dormitories to arrest students who participated in the protests and end the movement. Police fired copious amounts of tear gas and rubber bullets and attacked students with water cannons, forcing the university to shut down early for the semester. When police arrived at PolyU, the CUHK raid had cost them the element of surprise, and students fought back with Molotov cocktails, bricks, and at least one bow and arrow.
On Monday morning, PolyU officials announced that police had agreed to a “ceasefire” to let students leave the campus. When students attempted to do so, however, riot forces assembled around the campus at 5:30 a.m. attacked them with tear gas and water cannons. Harrowing images surfaced of police officers beating students into the asphalt, dragging them violently across the ground, and otherwise assaulting them. A particularly violent scene erupted on Monday morning when a group of about 100 students attempted to run away from campus and did so accidentally into a wall of riot police.
Just a taste of the violent arrests being made at #PolyU. Even with members of the press swarming around, excessive force is being used on protesters who are subdued and too tired to fight back. pic.twitter.com/fPkIbOZZOs
— Karen Tse (@ktse852) November 18, 2019
From earlier in the day, hundreds of protesters storm out of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, in a daring escape where barrages of tear gas were fired behind them. Majority of them were unable to escape and were pushed back into campus. #HongKongProtests pic.twitter.com/ltqQ1TONc9
— Michael Zhang 張雨軒 (@YuxuanMichael) November 18, 2019
Police did not allow medical staff into the campus or aid workers with food and water, meaning the students trapped on campus, at one point believed to total up to 500, had a very limited supply of food and water. Those injured in Sunday’s clashes with police also had no access to first aid, potentially causing them long-term physical harm.
On Monday night, protest groups from outside campus enacted a dramatic liberation effort off of a footbridge on campus. Images and videos show the students tossing a rope down from the footbridge onto the road below. As students climbed down the rope to the ground, motorcycles grabbed them and drove them away as quickly as possible. According to the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), the liberation operation occurred as “tens of thousands of Hong Kongers streamed towards the PolyU campus to break the siege.”
The descent down the footbridge was reportedly an estimated eight meters (26 feet), according to broadcaster RTHK.
VIDEO: Dozens of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters dramatically escaped a two-day police siege at a university campus by shimmying down ropes from a bridge to waiting motorbikes pic.twitter.com/jDnmbhd6P1
— AFP news agency (@AFP) November 19, 2019
The footbridge escapes ended when police came upon the scene and began liberally firing tear gas, making it impossible for the group to see where to send those on the rope down to. The students on the footbridge reportedly fired at police with bows and arrows.
According to RTHK, police finally allowed first responders to tend to injured students on Monday night. Paramedics began carrying injured students out but could not offer medical care if they did not register their names and identities with riot police to ensure later prosecution of those over 18. This did not appear to deter the arrests of medical personnel seeking to enter the campus to treat those inside. Other reports suggest that many of those arrested were not students, and at least some foreign tourists have been caught up in the siege.
A group appearing to be first-aiders are arrested by police near PolyU.
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) November 18, 2019
While some escaped on the bridge, others sought an exit route underground early Tuesday morning.
By Tuesday morning, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that 100 students remained on campus. The university remained on lockdown, officers expecting to arrest anyone attempting to escape without surrendering to police.
Outside of campus, Hong Kong’s hospitals have reportedly struggled to keep up with the demand for medical treatment from the hundreds of students injured during the attack on campus. Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority requested that civilians not go to the city’s hospitals unless they have no choice, as they cannot handle the number of people seeking treatment after police attacked them at PolyU.
The protest movement began in June against a proposed law that would have granted China the ability to extradite anyone present in Hong Kong for allegedly violating Communist Party law, effectively imposing communist laws on the city and violating the “One Country, Two Systems” policy. The protest movement has made five official demands: a full withdrawal of the extradition bill (already granted), freedom for political prisoners, direct election of lawmakers, an end to calling protesters “rioters,” and an independent investigation into police brutality.
The Chinese communist regime condemned students in the aftermath of the horrific police violence against them at PolyU.
“The sabotage and crimes of the violent offenders in Hong Kong have been escalating in recent days, which endangers the safety and destroy property of the citizens, tramples on the rule of law and social order, undermine the city’s stability and prosperity and challenge the bottom line of ‘one country, two systems,'” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters on Tuesday. “All this has hurled Hong Kong into a precarious situation. The most pressing task at the moment is ending violence and restoring order. The central government firmly supports the Hong Kong SAR government led by the Chief Executive in governing Hong Kong in accordance with law, the Hong Kong police in strictly enforcing law, and the Hong Kong judiciary in bringing criminals to justice according to law.”