Police said on Monday that they have arrested 51 people who “claimed to be medics or journalists,” amidst growing public concern of indiscriminate arrests at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU).
Michael Cheuk, regional commander of Kowloon West, said that 12 of purported medics had no first aid qualifications. Another three people wearing press vests were also unable to provide credentials, he said. All of the suspects were arrested in relation to rioting.
“We received concrete intelligence that some rioters arranged to change their outfits, wearing reflective vests to disguise themselves as journalists or medics,” he said at a press conference.
Cheuk added that anyone who walked out of the PolyU campus in Hung Hom will be arrested for rioting. He said police hoped to come to a peaceful resolution and called on the protesters inside to give up their arms and surrender.
Black-clad protesters have been locked in a standoff with riot police for over two days, with a few hundred people standing their ground within a heavily fortified campus. Police had taken over all entry points to the university as of Sunday evening, leaving those inside trapped and running low on supplies.
A widely circulated photo on Sunday night appeared to show more than 10 people – all of whom wore reflective vests identifying them as medical staff – sitting on the ground with their hands zip-tied behind their backs.
Members of the pro-democracy medical support group Médecins Inspirés have also been reportedly arrested for rioting, though no formal charges have been confirmed by police yet.
Local and international journalists were also stopped and searched on their way out of PolyU. Some reporters were denied entry into the PolyU campus on Monday morning to relieve their colleagues, despite police allegedly promising that press could “swap” staff inside the cordoned area.
Cheuk said that police were not targeting specific occupations and that they will arrest suspicious persons first before conducting an in-depth investigation.
PolyU said in a statement on Monday afternoon that it had met with police representatives and asked officers to not enter the campus for the time being. It also called on the police to arrange medical services for the injured and treat all arrested persons “with fairness and in a humanitarian manner.”
At around 2:30pm, a team of 14 Red Cross paramedics were allowed to enter PolyU. Red Cross Secretary General Bonnie So said afterwards that the team came into contact with approximately 50 wounded, most of whom were suffering from fractures.
‘Fanning flames of violence’
Meanwhile, a spokesperson from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said that the UK was seriously concerned by the escalation in violence from both sides.
“It is vital that those who are injured are able to receive appropriate medical treatment, and that safe passage is made available for all those who wish to leave the area. We need to see an end to the violence, and for all sides to engage in meaningful political dialogue ahead of the District Council elections on Sunday,” the FCO spokesperson said.
Man-kei Tam, the director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, condemned the police as “yet again fanning the flames of violence when they should be trying to defuse it.”
“It is the police’s responsibility to de-escalate this situation, but instead of assisting injured protesters trapped at the University they are unlawfully arresting the medics attempting to treat the wounded,” Tam said.
Tam also noted that the potential use of live ammunition warning by the police – issued late on Sunday – was an “aggressive move” that heightened the risk of tragedy.
The local watchdog Human Rights Monitor also cautioned against the use of live rounds, saying that it was “a step closer to a humanitarian crisis,” which would inflict heavy costs on both Hong Kong and China.
In a rare move, Hong Kong’s Buddhist, Catholic, Confucian, Islamic, Protestant and Taoist leaders have made a joint statement urging all sides to cease fire and allow people inside the PolyU campus to leave.
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