Nobody really likes to endure the heat and humidity of Hong Kong’s streets when staging a protest, not to mention the potential risk of arrest and harsh treatment nowadays.

I believe most young people may have preferred to be playing video games and using Instagram before Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attempted to pass the controversial Anti-Extradition Bill in June 2019. But the Hong Kong government and the police managed to ensure the political awakening of the city’s young and middle-aged people who were previously perhaps uninterested in politics. They have ensured protests have become part of Hong Kong’s youth culture.

Photo: Studio Incendo.

Nobody could have imagined how the movement would have progressed into a continuous confrontation between citizens and the police. During the Umbrella Movement in 2014, the case of seven police officers beating up social worker and activist Ken Tsang in a dark corner stirred up so much public anger that the officers were charged and sentenced. But since the Anti-Extradition Bill protests last year, police officers have been enjoying impunity for using force in the name of dispersing crowds and arresting protesters.

Some people might ask why demonstrators persist, saying that everything should return to business as usual, especially with the city’s economy hit further by the coronavirus outbreak. Who would want to take to the streets if there was another viable option, such as fair and genuine universal suffrage of Hong Kong’s leader and the Legislative Council?

Yet, it is actually the mischievous attitude of the local and national government that has shaped the current protest culture – in particular, the actions of Carrie Lam and the Hong Kong police. The government simply ignores protesters’ demands. There has been no independent investigation of the excessive use of police force in handling the protests. And all of this has contributed to endless protests and clashes.

Photo: via CC 2.0.

Hong Kong officials have been trying hard to divert public attention away from police violence whilst discrediting protesters as “hooligans.” They, and pro-Beijing politicians, call for ending violence at the same time as persuade the public to turn a blind eye to police violence. They claim the force has been restrained and acted within guidelines, but no sensible person would ever believe this.

The report released by Hong Kong’s Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) on 15 May will only fuel more public anger, and thus more protests in future. It will not help reduce clashes between protesters and police and will only intensify the problem. The conclusion of the report simply reinforced the need to have a truly independent investigation, instead of a toothless agency to do window dressing for the police. The report used biased “evidence” and ignored facts. It’s just like a piece of propaganda issued to block public scrutiny and has zero credibility. And who knows what the consequences would be, if any, should the police fail to follow the IPCC’s recommendations.

Photo: May James/HKFP

According to the report, the council received as many as 1,755 complaints over police behaviour during demonstrations and incidents which took place between 9 June 2019 and March 2020. It also looked more closely at six key events, including the Yuen Long mob attack on 21 July 2019 and police operations at Prince Edward MTR station on 31 August 2019.

For the Yuen Long mob attacks, the police were criticised for being absent while white-clad mobs were attacking the people at the train station. However, the IPCC only said that there were “deficiencies in Police deployment and other Police action in response to the events.” For such comments, there is no scrutiny of what responsibility the police should bear for being absent at the scene and the ensuing public outcry over the evidence that suggested potential collusion between the police and triad gangs.

And the report claimed that the police deployment at Prince Edward station was fine. Did the council look into the numerous first-hand videos and interview eye-witnesses to collect evidence for their “investigation”? Is the council suggesting that the 1,755 complaints are groundless?

Photo: Studio Incendo.

When it was the “good old days” for peaceful protest, police were helpful in arranging routes for protesters. I personally took part in many of them over the years. The notification sent to the police and the issue of a “letter of no-objection” were merely matters of formality. But that time has long gone. People are now left with nothing effective. The lack of response from the government, and the lack of choice to achieve the demands, just pushes us all – the citizens – to continue our fight. It’s the government that pushes citizens to become protesters.

Patrick Poon

Patrick Poon is an independent human rights researcher in Hong Kong and a PhD researcher at the Institute for Transtextual and Transcultural Studies at the University of Lyon.