Hong Kong. December 18, 2005. The brutality and inhuman treatment of the protestors against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by the Hong Kong police comes as a shock and must immediately be stopped. On December 17, 2005
2005 unarmed protesters attempted to enter the Hong Kong Convention Centre, where the WTO ministerial conference is being held. The response of the police was to use pepper spray and tear gas on the protesters. Due to this excessive reaction, it was reported that some protesters removed some wooden fences on the streets, resulting in minor clashes between the protesters and the police. Despite the protesters being unarmed, the Hong Kong police commissioner declared the peaceful demonstration as a violent riot against Hong Kong law and pledged to take serious action against the protesters. At about 4am on December 18 about 500-600 protestors, mostly South Korean, were arrested and detained in various police stations, including Kwun Tong police station. They have now been taken to the Kwun Tong Magistracy. Another group of about 400 protesters of various nationalities, including Hong Kong residents, who staged a peaceful sit-in on the streets were also surrounded by the police and barred from returning to their homes and hotels. At the time of writing, these people remain on the streets, without access to food or blankets.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been closely watching the protests relating to the WTO in Hong Kong, and several staff members have witnessed various incidents of excessive police violence, particularly on December 17. On that day, the protestors had a clear objective: to reach the venue of the WTO ministerial conference and make their voices heard. The entire objective of the police however, was to deny the protestors their right to movement. The protestors then confronted the police lines and tried to push through the police barricades to move closer to the Convention Centre.
During these confrontations, the police were visibly armed with protective gear including helmets, gas masks, shields and batons. The police also used water cannons on the protesters near the designated protest area, provoking the protestors. This also outraged many local bystanders, who began shouting 'Don't hit/attack people!' to the police. While the use of water cannons was an unnecessary and disproportionate response to the demonstration, it was also evident that the officers could not even control the water cannons effectively, at times directing the water at journalists and other supporters of the demonstrators. Pepper spray was also excessively used on the protesters, despite earlier criticisms from civil groups regarding police usage throughout the week.
At about 5:30pm on December 17, protestors began taking different routes towards the Convention Centre, overpowering some police lines. Staff of the AHRC witnessed protestors walking and running along the streets with flags and drums, causing no disruption to any local property. Plain clothed police however, were seen yelling at MTR (Mass Transit Railway) staff near the Wan Chai Playground to close the gates of MTR entrances when the unarmed protestors were peacefully going along the streets. A little later, a group of police officers in riot gear began marching along the street, yelling at bystanders--mostly Hong Kong residents--to move away. The police were clearly nervous and overreacting, even though they outnumbered the approximately 1,000 un-armed protestors three to one.
When the protesters approached closer to the Convention Centre and clashed with the police, the police used tear gas for the first time. The protesters continued to remain on the streets while police cordoned off the area and surrounded them. A few hundred South Korean farmers were arrested and they were herded into police buses with their hands tied behind their backs.
Also on December 17, the Hong Kong police surrounded about 400 protestors who were sitting on the streets. Among the protestors are South Korean farmers as well persons of various nationalities including Indonesians and Hong Kong residents. They have been kept on the streets for over a period of 12 hours, without food, sanitation or blankets. Even those who wanted to return to their homes or hotels have not been allowed to leave. They will most likely be arrested soon.
The AHRC unequivocally condemns such inhuman and forceful treatment of unarmed protesters by the Hong Kong police. It is evident that far from the professional and rational behaviour expected of the police, they have provoked violence, overreacted and used excessive force. It is essential that the Hong Kong Police respect the rights of all persons in Hong Kong, regardless of their nationality, including their freedom of expression, assembly, movement and right to protest. All those at present protesting against the WTO are doing so because their livelihoods are being threatened. They are not sure for fun. Fellow poor farmers in South Korea donated money to pay for the South Korean farmers to come to Hong Kong. As they are barred from voicing their concerns at the actual conference, protest is a legitimate means through which they can he heard.
The AHRC therefore demands that all protesters, including South Korean farmers, detained in Hong Kong police stations be released immediately and unconditionally. All other persons on the streets must also be allowed to return to their residences. The Hong Kong Government must immediately intervene and make assurances that the rights of all persons in Hong Kong, including the right to protest, freedom of assembly and movement will be respected. A step in this direction is for the Hong Kong police to bring an immediate stop to the use of violence against protestors. They should also publicly apologise for the use of excessive force against the protestors and their ill treatment.