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Hong Kong’s police are rolling out harsh new tactics against protestors

Nikhil Sonnad
Anti-extradition bill protesters react from tear gas as riot police try to disperse them during a protest at Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong

Scenes from across Hong Kong over the weekend show the city’s police force resorting to harsher tactics than ever as it struggles to put down the mass protests of the past 10 weeks.

Violence is not new to the demonstrations, which began in June over a controversial extradition proposal and have expanded into a broader fight over Hong Kong’s autonomy with respect to China. Police have been firing tear gas and rubber bullets for weeks. Groups of thugs in white t-shirts have also been beating people—protestors or not—indiscriminately.

In recent days, police have stepped up the aggressive tactics, as well as their arrests of protestors. One apparently new move involves riot police taking the fight to Hong Kong’s MTR subway stations. Tear gas, generally designed to be used outdoors as a way to disperse crowds, is being fired inside stations, leaving protestors and commuters with no escape from the fumes.

One video shows police in the Tai Koo MTR station firing what appear to be pepper balls directly at protestors’ heads from just a few feet away and slamming them to the ground.

In another, police at Tai Koo are seen freely swinging their batons, beating people attempting to flee down an escalator.

Quartz has reached out to the MTR for comment on police activities in its stations.

Police have also increased their use of tear gas in densely populated residential areas, where the gas affects not only protestors but neighborhood residents as well. White-shirted thugs continued to appear in the middle of the night today, clashing with and beating residents and protestors. And plainclothes officers, disguised in the distinctive yellow hardhats of the protestors, have been seen making surprise arrests after mixing in with crowds.

In clashes with police throughout the city, protestors have tried to outfox the authorities by moving unpredictably and without official permission. The city’s government issued an official statement pointing the finger at protestors, who they say threw bricks and gas bombs at police.

We are outraged by the violent protesters’ behaviours which showed a total disregard of the law, posing a serious threat to the safety of police officers and other members of the public,” the statement says. It did not address the many apparent instances of brutal police tactics.

The harsher actions come just days after the Hong Kong police made the surprising decision to bring former deputy chief Alan Lau out of retirement. He was responsible for the force’s response to the city’s Umbrella Movement protests in 2014. It seems Lau is taking a more aggressive stance than his predecessor.

The protests are continuing despite Beijing’s stern warning that “any attempt to play with fire will only backfire.”

Mary Hui and Isabella Steger contributed reporting.

 

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