Tag: 2016 Mongkok Riots

HK rioters: Riot should be a “wake up call” to Hong Kong government

Why did protesters decide to tear bricks out of the sidewalk in Hong Kong on the night of February 8 and fight with police, risking arrest or abuse, even after police fired shots?

Hong Kong’s Next Magazine (February 16th issue) answers those questions by interviewing three protesters and rioters. Hong Kong democracy supporters are angry after years of being ignored by the government and politicians, having had their demands go unanswered, and having been hit with pepper spray and instances of police brutality during the mostly non-violent Occupy Central protests of 2014.

The three protesters were all given pseudonyms by the magazine, as there have been over 60 people arrested in the first week after the riot. Two were men and one was a women. Two came out after a police officer fired his weapon.

“A Bo”, who joined the protests from the start, a man born in the 1980’s, said he thought society is stuck in a rut and the mainstream democracy movement hasn’t been able to move forward through attempts at compromise. He thought more radical actions were the only answer.

“If you have too many fears, you have no way to protest,” he said, citing Occupy Central as one example of a movement that was paralyzed by anxiety. Benny Tai Yiu-ting, the Hong Kong University law professor who devised and led the Occupy Central campaign, spent much year leading up to the protests thinking about just protest theory and devising a code of conduct, but his strategy was ineffective. He almost chickened out; Tai ended up calling for the occupation to start after HKU students already started a short-term occupation on their own.

A Bo also took issue with pan-democrats who seem too critical of grassroots protesters at times. Various pan-democratic parties, of the nine who hold elected seats in the Legislative Council, have condemned certain protest groups for extreme actions like trying to break into the LegCo. The Democratic Party, which was criticized in 2010 for forging a compromise with the government, also condemned the Mongkok riots. The various pan-democratic parties often fight with each other over tactics and policies.

“No matter what we do, it seems like our fellow-travelers always denounce us in the end,” A Bo said. “The day the pan-democrats decide to finally wake up, we will already have dug our own graves.”

Gun fire encouraged others to join riots

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“Article 23 has been slandered and demonized”

Following Hong Kong’s protest-turned-riot on the night of February 8, that started as an effort by anti-Beijing and anti-government activists to defend hawkers from eviction, some Hong Kong government officials have called for a domestic security law to be reintroduced.

The protests started when localists, reportedly lead by the group Hong Kong Indigenous, surrounded unlicensed snack hawkers to try to prevent authorities from shutting them down. Ongoing controversy has followed government regulation of vendors at night markets over the past few years. Protesters started throwing things around midnight, according to the South China Morning Post‘s timeline, and then police fired warning shots at 2 am, but the riot only intensified, and fires were lit on the street starting at 4 am.

China’s central government labeled the localist protesters “separatists,” using a word they have used to refer to Xinjiang and Tibetan independence activists.

Now some government officials and pro-establishment activists are calling for renewal of an Article 23 domestic security law that was pulled in 2003 after mass protests. The protests led to the proposal, so-named because it is allowed for in Hong Kong’s Basic Law under Article 23, being withdrawn from the Legislative Council and then Secretary for Security Regina Ip resigning.

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What Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and the Republican Party’s anti-Trump movement have in common

The Economist (February 13th) reports Syrian dictator Bashir Assad’s forces are making a comeback. The Syrian army encircled Aleppo and took other cities to its northwest. If Assad ends up winning and reestablishing control over Syria, it will be because the opposition was divided.

It is a common problem in movements. Donald Trump leads the Republican primaries early on, despite over 50 percent of the electorate voting against him in each contest, because the Republicans haven’t united behind an opposition candidate. On the night of February 8, the streets of Mongkok, the most crowded neighborhood of Hong Kong, were ablaze with fires and bullet shots from the police rang out. Mongkok had been the site of some of the rowdiest protests during the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement, and in 2016 it was once again, as localists fought police, ostensibly in the name of unlicensed snack vendors the police tried to ticket.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has long suffered from fissures between various groups and parties about how best to achieve democracy—and what “democracy” should mean in practice. In its fractured political system, the 16 parties represented in the Legislative Council are basically divided in “pan-democratic” and “pro-Beijing” camps rather than being divided by left-right ideology. Thus radical socialist democrats partner with upper-middle class free-market democrats. In 2013, I attended a deliberation day with Left21, where labour organizers talked about organizing around workers’ grievances, a few weeks after observing traders in suits talk about the importance of rule of law for business.

When localists threw bricks and bottles at police on February 8, they raised a question that has and will continued to fracture the democracy movement. How much resistance and violence should they use?

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