Pro-democracy lawmakers and a civil rights group have questioned the police use of a “kettling” tactic on Sunday night to clear protesters from a crowded shopping mall. Meanwhile, pro-Beijing legislators have condemned the violent scenes, urging the public to respect officers.

Kettling refers to a strategy whereby police officers close in on a crowd and confine them in a small area without providing any exit route. The crowd control tactic has sparked controversy worldwide over human rights concerns.

july 14 sha tin new town plaza china extradition (12)

After a mass rally in Sha Tin on Sunday calling for the city’s controversial extradition law to be fully scrapped, protesters occupied main roads. Gradually, protesters left the roads and sought refuge in nearby malls as police announced they would clear the streets during the evening.

july 14 sha tin new town plaza china extradition (12)

Scuffles broke out between protesters and police as police in full riot gear entered New Town Plaza – connected to the MTR station – at around 9pm. At least 22 people were hospitalised, with two people in a critical condition and four in a serious condition. Over 40 arrests were made.

Civil Rights Observer, a human rights group which sent witnesses to the protests, said the MTR service at Sha Tin station was halted for a period of time during the police dispersal operation, effectively causing a containment of protesters with no path to leave.

“Police should give clear indicators, [and a] reasonable time and pathway for the crowd to leave a protest site during the dispersal action,” it said in a statement.

july 14 sha tin new town plaza china extradition (14)
Police guarding the exit next to the Shatin MTR station. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

The group said the containment tactic creates a “kettling effect,” causing serious clashes when protesters are unable to leave.

“The Civil Rights Observer believes that large-scale containment tactics should not be used, unless the police have adequate legal backing to make arrests at protest scenes, and have decided to make large-scale arrests,” it said. “We noticed that a large number of residents and peaceful protesters were kettled within the defence line of the police in the New Town Plaza.”

YouTube video

The group also said that it noticed that the issue of officers not showing their identification cards may have been one of the reasons that individual officers were assaulted on Sunday.

It added that it was irresponsible for the government not to respond to public demands and thus allowing the clashes to become more serious.

july 14 sha tin new town plaza china extradition (12)
Photo: Stanley Lai/Apple Daily.

“The assaults on both sides by police and protesters will only cause damage and hate within Hong Kong society, and the political conflict will not be resolved,” it said.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Au Nok-hin, who was on the scene, questioned whether it was necessary for police to enter New Town Plaza to clear demonstrators, saying they were given no pathway to leave.

july 14 sha tin new town plaza china extradition (12)

“Have protesters blocked the roads? No. Has anything in the mall been damaged? Don’t see any – and the mall has said it did not ask for police to come in,” he said on his Facebook page.

“Sending dozens of riot police into a mall with a thousand protesters would only expose the frontline officers, causing them to be surrounded [by protesters], and more people threw things at them from the second and third floors.”

防暴警商場窄道推進 一家大小嚇破膽

防暴警商場窄道推進一家大小嚇破膽____________________14-07-2019【沙田遊行】入夜後大批警察兵分多路入商場清場,期間區內市民慌忙失措。當中包括小朋友及老人家。____________________相關資料:新城市廣場爆大混戰 多人被捕 警曾封港鐵入口 致示威者滯留商場

Posted by FTVV on Sunday, 14 July 2019

Au said the police’s tactic was “rubbish” in that it caused unnecessary conflict and was a threat to elderly people and children leaving the mall.

“Of course the problem behind all of this is a government that does nothing, allowing the people to fight each other,” Au said.

Pro-democracy lawmakers issued a joint statement demanding an explanation from the police chief and an apology to affected businesses and people.

‘Violent acts’

Meanwhile, 39 pro-Beijing lawmakers signed a joint statement condemning the illegal and violent behaviour of protesters causing harm police officers.

The lawmakers said that the violent protests were clearly organised and planned, as demonstrators intentionally incited others to storm police lines.

“We urge the public… not to tolerate such organised violent acts and must stop them,” the lawmakers said.

july 14 sha tin new town plaza china extradition (12)

They also called upon members of the press to cooperate with the police during clearance actions.

“No-one should insult the police [or] damage their morale, making it harder for them to effectively exercise their duties. This is very irresponsible and we condemn such acts,” they said.

pro-Beijing lawmakers
Photo: DAB screenshot, via Facebook.

Legislative Council President Andrew Leung, lawmakers Michael Tien and Paul Tse did not sign the statement.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.