Hong Kong police surround university as violent standoff with students continues
Hong Kong's ban on wearing masks at public gatherings, passed last month using controversial, colonial era emergency powers, has been struck down by the High Court.
In a judgment handed down Monday morning, as violent clashes continued around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the court ruled in favor of a group of pro-democracy legislators who had challenged the constitutionality of the law.
The Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO), which had not been used for more than half a century, gives the city's chief executive power to bypass the legislature to "make any regulations whatsoever which he (or she) may consider desirable in the public interest."
While it did not strike down the ERO, the court nevertheless said it was "incompatible with the Basic Law," the city's de facto constitution, "insofar as it empowers the (chief executive) to make regulations on any occasion of public danger."
The ERO must be read in conjunction with the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, and measures adopted under it must comply with those protected by the latter law, the court said.
"We leave open the question of the constitutionality of the ERO insofar as it relates to any occasion of emergency," the court said.
Some context: Under the mask ban, police officers were empowered "to stop any person in any public place who is using a facial covering and to require that person to remove it so that his or her identity may be verified, if the officer reasonably believes the facial covering is likely to prevent identification." People who failed to remove masks or face coverings could face a fine of up to $1,200 and/or imprisonment for up to 6 months.
This provision "represents a more serious inroad into protected rights than is reasonably necessary, and therefore fails the proportionality test," the court ruled.
Other provisions of the mask law also went "further than is reasonably necessary for the furtherance of those objects."
Chinese state-run newspaper the China Daily has called for an "uncompromising" crackdown on Hong Kong's protesters in an editorial published Monday morning.
"The hardcore rioters who have turned the city's streets and university campuses into scenes reminiscent of a war zone have deluded themselves into believing that they are above the law," the editorial said.
Though Chinese state media has taken a consistently hardline on the Hong Kong protest movement, the tone has become even harsher in recent weeks.
Monday's China Daily editorial accused protests of being fueled by "privilege" and "prejudice."
"It is only because they are puffed up with the pride they take in their prejudice that they are willing to indulge in such sociopathic behavior," the editorial said.
In a social media post on Sunday night, Hu Xijin, editor of the state-run tabloid Global Times, called for the police to use live rounds on the protesters.
Hundreds of people are lining the streets surrounding Nathan Road, where protesters are tossing bricks and building barricades in an attempt to draw police away from the Polytechnic University.
One man in his 20s told CNN he supports the protesters, and that they're fighting to “save” the students still inside the university.
But on a street just around the corner, the support isn’t as strong.
One retiree said the scenes of destruction, happening mere feet away, were too extreme. She had supported the initial protests in the early summer months, and was against the now-withdrawn extradition bill, but she thinks the escalating violence is “crazy.”
“Don’t tell me that is supported,” she said, thumbing through photos she took on her iPhone of the vandalism and wrecked shops nearby.
When the topic came to the future of her city, she choked up.
“It’s crazy, Hong Kong is not like that ... it’s not violent, before we could talk, accept each other.”
A 30-year-old man nearby said he’s ready to move on from Hong Kong. Squatting down with a cigarette in hand, he told CNN he studied in Canada for ten years -- and after more than five months f protests, he thinks it’s time to go back.
“Hong Kong is no longer a good place to live,” he said. “I love this place, I thought Hong Kong was the best city in the world. But no longer,”
The man added that he supports that young people are fighting for freedom, but doesn’t agree with the level of violence employed. “I don’t know if they’re doing the right thing or the wrong,” he said
Its gone midday in Hong Kong and the city's Polytechnic University remains under siege. Elsewhere, widespread protests continue to flare.
But there has been no comment yet this morning from the Hong Kong government.
Many social media users have questioned why there had been no response by city authorities despite the ongoing siege. So far only the police have issued press statements.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo asked on her official Twitter where was Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during the crisis.
"Where's our civilian government?" she asked.
For a while this morning, it appeared police would not take the bait that protesters had set: building barricades and causing disruptions on streets in Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui district, in an attempt to divert police resources.
But then hundreds of protesters hiding behind umbrellas and yellow plastic barriers started to push up Jordan Road, just a few hundred meters (about 500-1,000 feet) away from the Polytechnic University campus.
Police fired tear gas and bean bag rounds from the Gascoigne Road flyover onto protesters, who were trying to push on up to the flyover. Protesters threw petrol bombs up at police, causing small fires on the road. Riot vans then moved in, their sirens blaring, and protesters ran.
The clash was over within minutes, with some bystanders hanging around watching the fray. The roads are now left covered in broken bricks and closed to traffic. Police are continuing to clear parts of Jordan Road to let their vans drive through, and protesters have once again retreated further into Tsim Sha Tsui.
While the majority of protesters have left the Polytechnic University (PolyU) campus, a large number are still there, either determined to hold on or trapped by police, who have conducted mass arrests and fired tear gas on streets around the campus.
The mood inside the campus is very somber, said freelance photojournalist Aidan Marzo, who has been there since Sunday.
"People are running short of water and food, to the extent that they're having to be aware of resources they're using," he told CNN. "People here are almost accepting of the fact that the fight here is almost over, they're laying down ... it's a pretty somber mood."
Marzo said that many protesters left around 8 a.m. this morning after word went around that university officials had negotiated a ceasefire with police. Many were trapped, however, after police attacked those streaming from the campus.
"When they did leave, or tried to, police kept firing round after round of tear gas and they were forced to retreat back into the university," he said. It's unclear whether any ceasefire was actually agreed, or if it might have been a negotiated surrender for students to leave peacefully but still face arrest.
"There's been a lot of miscommunication in the last 24 hours on how, or if people can leave, it's been quite difficult for protesters, and even the press, to know what to do," Marzo added.
A night of violence: While many protesters are taking advantage of the current lull to catch up on some rest, Marzo described the intense fighting that went on throughout the night, with determined protesters defying multiple police advances, tear gas and water cannon.
"A lot of these kids, they would get hit by the water cannon, medics would carry them away, they would get washed down, new clothes and go back to the front lines," he said, adding that even though many feel defeated today, they likely will not go down without a fight.
"Their hatred of the police way outweighs their lack of spirit," Marzo said. "(PolyU) is an urban maze, a lot of basement, ground level rooms, and bridges and overpasses. It's not large in terms of surface area, (but) it will be quite complicated for police to clear it."
The Hong Kong police said on Twitter they had fired tear gas because protesters in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University had "ignored" repeated warnings and charged at police with petrol bombs.
The police called tear gas "the minimum force necessary," and urged the protesters to drop their weapons and leave the university "in an orderly manner."
It's been almost six months now since protests began in Hong Kong -- and since then the movement has dramatically broadened.
The protests began in June with one main objective -- for the government to withdraw a controversial bill that would have allowed extradition of fugitives to mainland China.
Critics worried Beijing could use the bill to prosecute people for political reasons under China's opaque legal system.
But when the government only suspended the bill and didn't withdraw it, the focus of the movement expanded to allegations of police brutality and calls for greater democracy.
The current five demands of the Hong Kong protest movement are:
- Fully withdraw the extradition bill (fulfilled in September)
- Set up an independent inquiry to probe police brutality
- Withdraw a characterization of early protests as "riots"
- Release those arrested at protests
- Implement universal suffrage in Hong Kong
Police have begun firing tear gas in Kowloon, where protesters are trying to draw police numbers away from the Polytechnic University.
Dozens of protesters on Jordan Road, Nathan Road, and several nearby streets have been prying up bricks from the road and scattering them around in an attempt to divert police resources from the university -- where a standoff between police and protesters is now entering its second day.
Several protesters have thrown bricks and petrol bombs at riot police, who are standing at the Gascoigne Road flyover. Police just fired tear gas in response toward Jordan Road.
Meanwhile, students and protesters remain barricaded inside the Polytechnic University, despite police orders for them to leave. Riot police are manning all roads in and out of campus, which appears on lockdown.