Arrests, violence … In Hong Kong, the situation is more tense than ever

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While the Hong Kong authorities have banned pro-democracy protesters from marching, the militants' determination, in an increasingly pressing witch-hunt, is raising fears of another day of violence on Saturday in the former British colony.

"The evolution of the situation in Hong Kong in recent hours is extremely worrying." From Helsinki (Finland), the head of European diplomacy, Federica Mogherini, expressed her concern on Friday 30 August. "We expect the Hong Kong authorities to respect the freedom of assembly, expression and association and the right to demonstrate peacefully"said the diplomat, after talks with EU foreign ministers.

After three months of confrontation, tensions are at their height between the Hong Kong government and pro-democracy activists.

A prohibited event

The pro-democracy militants learned the news on Thursday (August 29th): the Hong Kong police forbade them to demonstrate on Saturday, as they have been doing for almost three months. This time, they intended to mark the fifth anniversary of China's rejection of political reforms in Hong Kong, which triggered the "Umbrella Movement", which resulted in 79 days of peaceful occupation of the streets of Hong Kong in 2014. without obtaining any concessions from Beijing. In a letter to the Civil Human Rights Front (FCHR), a non-violent movement, on Thursday, the police feared that some participants would commit "Violence" or some "acts of destruction".

"You can see that the police are speeding up their action plan, and you can see that (the head of the Hong Kong executive) Carrie Lam has no intention of allowing Hong Kong to find peace, but seeks instead to stir up the anger of citizens with harsh measures ", told reporters Jimmy Sham, leader of the FCHR.

If the organizers have officially canceled the event, activists are considering other modes of action for this day of Saturday: a football match, a mass shopping outing or an impromptu religious gathering have been proposed on social networks. .. But what the authorities fear is the holding of banned gatherings. Police told Hong Kong residents on Friday that people arrested at illegal rallies were facing five years in prison, AP reports.

Figures of the pro-democracy camp arrested

In an effort to put more pressure on the protesters as they approach this day at risk, the authorities on Friday morning arrested several figures from the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Amnesty International immediately condemned "scandalous attacks on freedom of expression and assembly" and "tactics aimed at sowing fear straight out of Chinese textbooks".

Two of the most prominent figures in the Umbrella Movement, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, both 22 years old and very popular in the protest, were arrested at dawn, notably for "incitement to participate in an unauthorized gathering". . Released on bail, the two activists have indicated their intention to continue mobilization. Joshua Wong said he expected to be arrested. "We will continue to fight, no matter how they stop us and chase us," he also said.

A few hours earlier, another activist, Rick Hui, was arrested, as was Andy Chan – founder of the National Party (HKNP), a tiny pro-independence party banned by the authorities in 2018 – arrested at the airport. The arrest of pro-democracy MP Cheng Chung-tai, at the head of the "Civic Passion" movement, was also announced at midday. On the party's website, it is reported that the 35-year-old was being prosecuted for "conspiracy to cause criminal damage", in connection with the sacking of Parliament in July. Friday night, two other Civic Passion elected officials, Jeremy Tam and Au Nok-hin, were arrested for "obstruction of the police"announced the party on its Facebook page.

Since the beginning of the protest, more than 850 people have been arrested.

Employees under surveillance

Threatened with dismissal if they take part in the protests, employees of Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's historic airline, denounce "white terror". Once protected by their employers, five have lost their jobs in recent weeks. "We are being watched, that's obvious" says a crew member on anonymous basis, on the sidelines of a Wednesday night protest against Cathay Pacific's flip-flop.

In a letter to the staff, a director of Cathay, Tom Owen, also warns against participation in a strike scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. "We expect all our employees to work as planned, he said in this note, which the company sent a copy to AFP. Any failure (…) will be investigated and may result in termination of contract. " Self-censorship is now at work: employees who have posted messages of support for the protest have since erased them, for fear of being sacked.

"This white terror is enough to dissuade everyone from supporting the movement: employees, traders, entrepreneurs," tells Release, Tuesday, August 27, a finance executive sympathizing with the movement. "His fear is reinforced by a recent smear campaign on social networks, where protesters are posted, photos, names and personal data to the key, explains the article. While, for fear of retaliation and economic weakening, the big companies lined up behind Carrie Lam's government. In multinationals, instructions circulate internally to call employees at discretion ", still ensures Release.

Less and less peaceful protests

Paradoxically, by banning the demonstration organized by the FCDH, the non-violent organization behind the biggest rallies in recent months, the authorities could encourage the mobilization of radical protesters, ready to fight. Because over the weeks, the images of peaceful monster rallies have given way to those of clashes between protesters and police. Thus, in processions, Sunday, August 25, during the 12th consecutive weekend of demonstrations, some demonstrators had unsealed pavement pavement for use as projectiles. Others had sprayed the floor with detergent to make it slippery for the police.

A protester throws a projectile towards the police in Hong Kong, August 25, 2019.
Protesters launch police project in Hong Kong on August 25, 2019. (LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

"We learned from our failures of the 'Umbrella Revolution'. We were too peaceful at that time, Alice, a 26-year-old pro-democracy activist, told Wednesday at the microphone of France Culture. "And we were not demanding enough, we were not pushing the government hard enough. So he did not have to answer us, or do anything. This time, we are in fact rather surprised to be able to still be very united and to see that the flame is still burning. I actually hope it's a revolution and not just a movement to change things. "

Police officers who use new weapons

DAugust 25 marked a turning point in the methods used by the Hong Kong police. For the first time, she used tear gas and water cannons to repel the protesters. However, the security forces had so far claimed to want to resort to water cannons only in case of "large-scale disruption of public order". Frequently used by police in European countries, water cannons are a novelty in Hong Kong, where they had never been used against protesters before.

Protesters fired tear gas from police in Hong Kong on August 25, 2019.
Protesters fired tear gas from police in Hong Kong, August 25, 2019. (TYRONE SIU / REUTERS)

In the evening, a police officer fired at least once with his firearm. It is not possible to know who was the target of the shot, but this is the first time that a firearm has been fired since the beginning of the demonstrations.

New Chinese troops in Hong Kong

The Chinese army proceeded on Thursday to replace its permanently installed garrison in Hong Kong. Dozens of trucks and armored personnel carriers crossed the border between mainland China and the administrative region at night. It is "normal annual rotation" of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) garrison, the China News Agency said. The PLA has several thousand soldiers in Hong Kong since the return of the territory to China in 1997. The fresh troops arrived "by land, by sea and by air", added the official news agency.

The Chinese army does not normally have to intervene in Hong Kong but may be asked to restore order by local authorities, as recently reported by senior Chinese officials. Also, a video showing an exercise of the Hong Kong garrison occupied with suppressing riots was perceived at the beginning of August as a warning addressed to the demonstrators, who have been denouncing the pro-Beijing executive since June. "It has the determination, the confidence and the capacity to (…) protect the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong, just like peace and order", warned Thursday at a press conference Ren Guoqiang, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Defense



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