27 October 2016
A phalanx of armed police officers (right) encountered resistance from the Mong Kok protesters, some of whom carried hand-made shields. Photo: SocRec
A phalanx of armed police officers (right) encountered resistance from the Mong Kok protesters, some of whom carried hand-made shields. Photo: SocRec

Were the Mong Kok clashes a riot?

The clashes in Mongkok overnight on Monday and early Tuesday, in which more than 100 police, protesters and journalists were injured, should not be called a riot (暴亂), a well-known commentator said.

The incident was just a disturbance (騷亂) caused by disputes between illegal hawkers and Food and Environmental Hygiene Department officers, Chip Tsao, a Hong Kong writer and commentator, wrote in an article in Apple Daily.

Tsao said there is no reason the public should follow the government’s line in defining the clashes as a “riot”, the term used by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in his report to Beijing.

In Hong Kong’s history, only the Double Tenth riots, instigated by Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek, and the 1967 riots, instigated by Communist Party leader Mao Zedong, should be called riots, Tsao said.

The Double Tenth riots in 1956 killed 60 people and injured 300.

Five police officers, 20 protesters and seven other Hong Kong residents died in the 1967 riots.

Leung referred to the 10 hours of unrest in Mong Kok as a “riot” in a media briefing Tuesday morning.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the incident was completely a “riot”.

She said people have no reason to blame the government’s method of administration for provoking the clashes.

Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung, who called the protesters “mobs”, was quoted as saying in a Commercial Radio report Tuesday that there is no clear definition between “disturbance” and “riot” in legal terms.

He said “disturbance” should be used to describe a street occupation with no violent acts, while a “riot” usually involves actions that threaten public safety.

Lo said police were worried that the burning debris on roads would cause another fatal accident like the Fa Yuen Street fire in 2011.

While some local and international media referred to “disturbances” or “violent clashes”, other media, such as Television Broadcasts Ltd. (TVB, 00511.HK) and the South China Morning Post followed the government’s line and used the terms “riots” and “mobs”.

Online discussion about the distinction between “disturbance” and “riot” remains hot.

Some netizens said Leung is eager to label the clashes as a “riot”, as that will give him more reason to send more riot police with heavier weapons onto the street, or even introduce the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force to Hong Kong one day.

Others said calling the incident a riot will give the government the chance to use charges of rioting against the protesters given the absence of a national security law in Hong Kong.

Some netizens said the smashing of a taxi’s windshield was enough to turn the incident into a riot.

Under Section 19 of the Public Order Ordinance, participants in riots can be imprisoned for up to 10 years.

Ray Wong Toi-yeung (黃台仰), spokesman for Hong Kong Indigenous, a localist group, said setting fire to debris, throwing bricks and holding hand-made shields are not fierce actions at all compared with those taken by protesters in foreign countries.

The protesters in Mong Kok were just protecting themselves from police brutality, he said.

Wong said the incident wasn’t a riot.

The protesters were not mobs and do not hate police but emerged to protect the hawkers, he said.

People should focus on how the police abused their power and illegally arrested protesters, Wong said.

In a media briefing Tuesday, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah condemned the protesters for their behavior.

He said true localists should love Hong Kong and safeguard the city’s values instead of hurting Hong Kong people’s interests.

However, in his speech, Tsang spoke of the “Mongkok incident”, refraining from calling it a “riot”.

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