19 November 2019
Police use pepper spray liquid to disperse protesters for the first time since Sept. 28. Photo: HKEJ
Police use pepper spray liquid to disperse protesters for the first time since Sept. 28. Photo: HKEJ

Brute force alone won’t quash Occupy campaign

With the clearing operations well underway in Mong Kok, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has expressed his fervent hope that the Occupy protest campaign will soon end. He even urged the public to get ready for shopping and help the small establishments whose operations have been disrupted by the street occupation.

On Tuesday thousands of police were deployed to implement the court injunction against the pro-democracy activists in the Mong Kok protest zone. The protesters stood their ground and defended the protest zone. Clashes erupted and continued well into the night with officers using pepper spray and batons. Dozens, including journalists, were injured, and more than a hundred protesters were arrested.

The Mong Kok dispersal and resistance reflect the changing nature of the protest movement. The protesters now appear to be self-motivated and more determined to pursue the struggle. Even pleas from the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism for the protesters to leave the area covered by the court injunction and relocate somewhere else fell on deaf ears.

The protesters’ anger was heightened by the fact that the law enforcers appeared to be abusing their mandate as their clearing operations extended to protest sites outside the scope of the court order.

Some of the streets returned to normal vehicular traffic after the police action, and more dispersal operations were scheduled to be conducted on Wednesday. But there are indications that the protesters plan to return and occupy the streets again.

While government officials are hopeful that the Occupy campaign will end soon, it will be quite naive for them to expect that police action alone could settle the protest movement.

Occupy is a political movement that seeks to realize the people’s desire for genuine universal suffrage and a reaction to Beijing’s moves to deprive them of the right to choose their leaders. It cannot be quashed by mere truncheons, tear gas and pepper sprays.

Most people regard the protesters in Admiralty and Mong Kok as the same brand of people. In fact, they are quite different.

Those in Admiralty are mostly students and members of various pro-democracy organizations. They are highly disciplined and well organized. The protest zone has an established command center.

The Mong Kok protesters, on the other hand, are a motley group of students, professionals, people who live nearby, and, it is claimed, even triad members. At the Nathan Road protest zone, some people even set up a temporary temple and a Christian altar to allow the protesters to secure comfort from their religion.

They may not be as disciplined as those in Admiralty, but their commitment to the cause cannot be questioned. 

Some even say that many of those in Mong Kok are not just fighting for true universal suffrage but are also opposing authoritarian rule from Beijing. Lingnan University professor Wan Chin is among the Mong Kok protesters who want to see Hong Kong as a city state that can uphold its core values and get rid of the influence of China’s ruling Communist Party.

It appears that Mong Kok protesters are of a different breed.

Senior government officials are again out of town as police carry out the clearing operations. CY Leung is in South Korea while Chief Secretary Carrie Lam is visiting Beijing. The government is showing its lack of confidence to face the protesters, and is hiding behind the court’s credibility to end the protest.

That kind of distancing will not win the hearts and minds of the protesters.

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Police start clearing Occupy protest sites on Shandong, Argyle and Dandas streets in Mong Kok on Tuesday. Photo: HKEJ

A volunteer paramedic pours water into the eyes of a protester who was attacked by pepper spray. Photo: HKEJ

Police use pepper spray directly on the faces of protesters. Photo: HKEJ

Police grab a protester by the neck during the clearing operation. Photo: HKEJ

EJ Insight writer