As It Happens

Hong Kong students pushed by police action to use 'unprecedented force,' says activist

A pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong says students throwing bricks and using bows and arrows have been provoked into violence by the police.

Hong Kong's Polytechnic University activists hold their ground, launching firebombs and bricks at police

A protester rests under a sign that reads, 'Please go Hong Kong Polytechnic University Rescue' in the Hung Hom district of Hong Kong on Monday. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

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A pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong says students throwing bricks and using bows and arrows have been provoked into violence by the police.

Denise Ho says she does not condone violence of any kind, but she has sympathy for the students surrounded by police at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Tensions were high at the university on Monday night, as police continued to close in on protestors trapped inside the campus.

The demonstrators have held the site for days, holding off police with homemade fire bombs, bricks and even bows and arrows. Dozens have been injured, including a police officer, who was reportedly struck with an arrow.

Police have blocked off all but one entrance to the university, leading to a standoff, as protesters fear they will be arrested should they leave.

Ho spoke to As It Happens from Hong Kong. Here is part of her conversation with host Carol Off.

Denise, can you describe the scene around the Polytechnic University right now?

Basically, the Polytechnic University has been under siege since yesterday morning, which is almost 36 hours before now. And it started off as a blockage from the students and the campus and then clashes with the police.

And today there has been a huge protest outside the campus with tens or even hundreds of thousands of people coming in support and trying to save the students. So, basically, the students are still stuck in the campus and we are quite worried and very frustrated, really.

How many protesters do you believe are still inside?

It started off maybe around 1,000 students inside, who were very afraid actually. I was in contact with some of the kids inside and, you know, they tried a few times to flee the site, but then they were met with dozens of rounds of tear gas. And a lot of them were hurt.

Just half an hour ago, there were these principals of different universities and secondary schools who went inside and tried to convince the students to give themselves in. And so right now at this moment, there are about 500 students inside.

But police had set a deadline last night — Sunday — for people to leave the campus, saying anyone who stayed would be, could be arrested and charged with rioting. So what position are those students in? If they want to leave, can they leave? If they stay, will they be charged? Is it sort of a rock and a hard place at this point?

What happened yesterday was very infuriating because we had these 12 legislators who tried to go and negotiate with the police. And then [the police] refused to negotiate. And basically, they just would not listen to anybody. And they even threatened the students with maybe firing live rounds if the situation worsens.

And so, for some context, this whole protest really started last week with the general strikes, and then also this clamp-down at the Chinese University of Hong Kong just last week — where there were almost 2,000 rounds of tear gas fired at the university campus. And so that was the reason why the other university campuses were occupied.

And so we can see with these few incidents very recently, the Hong Kong police are totally out of control, and they will not listen to anyone else but their commanders.

A protester sets fire to block a road leading to the Kowloon area in Hong Kong. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

But at the same time, what has been reported is that there have been homemade petrol bombs. Bows and arrows are being used, and a police officer was injured with an arrow. And so the talk of escalating this or even using live rounds, did that not come when the police said that the students themselves were using what could be — or could become — lethal force?

Well, for sure, you know, we do not condone any sort of violence from any side.

But then I do want to remind everyone that, you know, the reason why the students ... have been pushed to use these very unprecedented levels of force.

Do you support them?

Yes, of course I support the young people. 

I mean the levels of violence. Do you think that that is justified?

I feel for them. And at some moments when you see, you know, all these situations where they have been pro-Beijing supporters using knives and then just attacking people on the streets, and then they are being protected by the police. They have been escorted by the police to leave the grounds without any charges on them. 

Of course I understand why the young people they feel the need to defend themselves. And instead of, you know, still urging on the peaceful protests — sitting down and having their hands up, even when people are ... beating them up — I just don't think that is reasonable for us to demand of them. I hope that we can find a better balance. But then I can understand why they have been pushed to this point.

There was recently video footage of someone opposing the protests who was set on fire. So is that an example of when you think things crossed the line?

That was a moment that nobody wanted to see. And fortunately, the person, he, I think — I'm not quite sure of his situation right now, but at least ... 

Protestors use a rope to lower themselves from a pedestrian bridge to waiting motorbikes in order to escape from Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the police. (Kin Cheung/The Associated Press)

He's in critical condition, after he was set on fire. 

It's the first few days. We haven't heard updates. But anyway, I do think, you know, that was one of the situations where we see some of the emotions of the protesters may be clouding some of their judgments. So I do agree that we have to strike a better balance to somehow take control of the emotions. But we do see discussions going on. So hopefully we will not see similar scenes in this in the future.

Among the people who are there at the university, I understand there are a group of parents and mothers who have congregated by the police cordon. Their kids are inside. That's the understanding. What are they hoping for, those parents?

The parents they came this afternoon and then they were quite mistreated by the police who scolded them and then they refused to let them go into the campus, which was the original request — that they could go inside and see the kids. Which shows how unsympathetic the police are with the people. And we just do not understand why the Hong Kong government, they have not said one word about the situation.

Interview produced by Morgan Passi. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


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