Occupy Mong Kok cleared – for now

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In two days, the police have successfully, or at least temporarily, cleared Occupy sites in Mong Kok, the area the Chief Executive described as “less genteel”. Behind the the two court injunctions on Argyle Street and Nathan Road respectively, the police have begun opening traffic on Nathan road and will continue to secure the area against further occupations by pro-democracy protesters.

Occupiers and police engaged in prolonged confrontation scattered throughout the maze that is Mong Kok’s back streets, throughout Tuesday until late Wednesday morning.

Clear

Bailiffs and legal representatives started the clearance of Argyle Street around 9:30 am on Tuesday, during which legislator Long Hair Leung Kwok Hung, and 14 year old Student Awakening convenor Cheung Chun-Ho, along with many others, were detained and taken away in police vehicles. Argyle Street did not get cleared until 3:15 pm but occupiers who initially filled up the site slowly backed down onto the sidewalks of Portland Street outside the H&M entrance of Langham mall. Police lined Portland Street to keep it open for vehicle traffic. and repeatedly urged people to leave the congested sidewalks. Two hours later when the crowd was still not dispersed, red flags asking protesters to stop charging were shown and pepper spray was used. This, in spite of the fact that no charging was evident. Rather, it seemed a move calculated to soften the crowd for an effective push forward (see video here).

Police pushed protesters down Portland Road, stalling at a small walkway that connected Portland St to Nathan Rd and the E1 Mong Kok MTR exit. Several arrests were made and from there, police were met with two fronts. With pepper spray, they continued pushing the larger crowd further along Portland St until it eventually split into three at the crossroads of Portland Street and Shantung Street towards both Nathan Road and Shanghai street.

At one point, protesters gathered at the intersection between Shanghai Street and Shantung Street, blocking an airport bus. No matter how often police told protesters to leave, people simply stuck around, sometimes forming new defensive lines, and other times just sitting along the streets. Confrontations between the police and protesters happened scattered throughout Mong Kok on Shantung Street, Shanghai Street, Reclamation Street, Soy St, Canton Rd, Kam Lam St, Kam Fong St and Dundas St. Occasionally, police went into Occupied areas when scuffles broke out between protesters and their more vocal detractors to keep the peace and escort weaker parties out. Some left in ambulances.

Eventually, police were able to herd people back to Nathan Road where protesters rebuilt barricades at Shantung St. At about 2:45 am, the police broke through this line of defense at Nathan Road and Shantung St. Protesters were pushed back and arrests were made. The police announced that they were not going to go on Nathan Road and ordered officers to retreat back to Shantung St. Conflicts died down as they secured the streets until this morning. A total of 116 people were arrested as a result of yesterday’s conflicts. (As of 4:30pm, the total number was 148 arrests)

This morning (Nov 26), bailiffs, accompanied by legal agents in somewhat less than judicial-appearing “I love HK” t-shirts and red caps, arrived on scene to reopen traffic on Nathan Road. One of the men leading the legal agents, was identified to be Man Shek, a well recognised former policeman and “green ribbon” (also anti-occupy) who threatened to jump off a building in the Mong Kok Occupy site in early November.

Held up when student leader Joshua Wong and LSD member Raphael Wong demanded clarification as to how the clearance would be carried out, the bailiffs asked police to intervene. Joshua and Raphael Wong (no relation), along with HKFS’s Lester Shum were soon detained and taken away from the scene. The police force then plowed through Nathan Road as Occupiers backed down slowly, regaining the area which had been occupied on and off since September 28th. Police cordons were set up around the perimeter, and the situation continues to develop as protesters look to regroup.

New Strategies

Last night, the police appeared to use a new strategy against protesters. Officers stood on yellow, mobile platforms, advancing with police lines and using pepper mist canisters on protesters who either obstructed police lines or were retreating too slowly. The tactic was effective but at times clumsy. An officer almost fell off the platform when the machine nearly toppled after catching on debris on the streets.

The general sentiment last night was tense and emotions ran high. Protesters, as they have been throughout the past 60 days, reacted angrily to any police aggression with swearing, booing, and sarcastic jeers. Police, on the other hand, also appeared to be under a high level of intensity and emotional strain. They swore, taunted, and yelled at people without provocation.

When making arrests, even some protesters who did comply immediately were met with violent force. Yesterday, police warned that if people did not leave immediately, they may escalate force and arrest people without any further warning. When people did not move quickly enough or stood their ground, officers did not hesitate to push or shove people as they advanced their lines. A video taken by HT reporters shows how a protester who refused to cooperate was restrained. It was not gentle.

Journalists shown no quarter

Treatment towards journalists was uneven. Some media liaison officers made sure reporters were safe, urging them to not get too close in case police have to retreat and may accidentally push them over. Some showed restraint and understanding when they saw a press badge. At points of confrontation, they escorted journalists to the side and, in large crowds, told media personnel to move out of the way of pepper mist. However, some officers showed less regard for journalists, as HT reporters were pushed and shoved to the sides by the police as they charged forward, at times even violently. One officer of higher rank yelled at two reporters documenting an arrest away from the large crowd, saying “So what if you’re a reporter. You’re a Hong Konger as well and you’re getting in the way of police doing their job!”. An engineer with the NOW news team was arrested yesterday for allegedly hitting an officer with a step ladder broadcast reporters often use to get a better view. When HT reporters showed their press badges to get past police cordon lines or to avoid aggression, several times police officers again replied, “So what if you’re a journalist?”

Not a police plan

A source within the police told HT reporters that many in the force were disgruntled because the recent high court injunctions had forced them into action. The plan beforehand had been to wait out the protests and carry out a clearance when numbers were down.

All in all, the police successfully reclaimed Argyle Street and forced protesters off the streets or onto Nathan Road yesterday, at the cost of a night of conflicts in the streets of Mong Kok.

The already fragile reputation of Hong Kong’s police force is under further scrutiny with criticism towards their treatment of the media, and accusations of excessive force used on protesters and bystanders alike.