This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Thousands of protesters gathered across Hong Kong on Friday, linking hands and wearing masks of all descriptions in protest at a mask ban under colonial-era emergency laws.
In a repeat of the “Hong Kong Way” protest in August, they linked hands forming a human chain that crossed most of the city’s 18 districts, interrupted only by roads and other obstacles.
Many protesters wore Anonymous masks, while others donned surgical masks or flashing electronic creations, and still others covered their faces with photographic masks of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and Chinese President Xi Jinping, social media posts showed.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of high-school students gathered at the University of Hong Kong to protest against police use of force against protesters, calling on Lam’s administration to meet the five demands of the protest movement that has gripped the city since early June.
Wearing school uniforms and face masks, they chanted slogans “Disband the police force now!” and “Hongkongers, resist!” and sang protest songs.
A high-schooler who gave only a nickname Thomas said he was there to back up calls for the five demands, and didn’t fear punishment.
“The school should allow students to take part in this movement, and not suppress them,” Thomas said. He said he planned to take part in a march planned by the Civil Human Rights Front on Sunday.
Police on Friday issued an objection to the march in Kowloon’s Tsimshatsui district. The group’s vice convenor Eric Lai said they had appealed, but that he didn’t expect the appeal to be successful.
Protesters on Friday said they still planned to gather for the march despite the lack of go-ahead from the authorities, and turnout is expected to be boosted by Wednesday‘s hammer attack on the group’s convenor Jimmy Sham, which left him in hospital and needing physical therapy.
The protesters’ five key demands are: the formal withdrawal of planned amendments to extradition laws; an amnesty for arrested protesters; an end to the description of protesters as rioters; an independent inquiry into police abuse of power; and fully democratic elections.
Sexual abuse by police
In recent days, protesters have also begun calling for the current Hong Kong police force to be disbanded, particularly after widespread reports of the sexual abuse and torture of detainees at the hands of police.
The vice-chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), Rocky Tuan, has written to students calling on the government to set up an independent commission of inquiry into allegations of police violence and abuse of power.
“Only the truth can bring justice to all,” Tuan wrote in the letter, which followed an emotional meeting with students last week during which one student said she and other detainees had been sexually abused by police.
He said the university had contacted more than 30 CUHK students who had been arrested, to find out more about their experiences of arrest and detention.
More than one student said they were slapped while giving a statement or during detention, while two students said they were forced to strip naked with no legal basis for the search.
Some were not allowed to sleep or lie down, and others said they weren’t given needed medication while one student with asthma had to wait six hours for treatment, Tuan’s letter said.
Many had said police had delayed their contact with their lawyers and families, and some had to wait as long as 78 hours to make a phone call. Others were made to give police statements without a lawyer, Tuan said.
“Irrespective of why our students were arrested, the police should ensure that the rights of the arrested must not be infringed upon during arrest and detention,” the letter said.
He called on the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO) to take prompt action to investigate the sexual assault claims, “preferably with IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Council] scrutiny.”
Protesters have rejected Lam’s insistence that complaints about police violence and abuse be dealt with by CAPO, which relies on police officers to investigate their colleagues. The IPCC has no legal investigative legal powers, and also relies on internal investigations by police.
“The escalating violence and acts of destruction must stop,” Tuan’s letter said. “The government must act fast to come up with feasible strategies to solve the problems in order to rekindle hope for the younger generations who are the future of Hong Kong.”
Deliberate police violence
Jacky So, president of the Chinese University Student Union, said the letter was a start.
“I believe that this open letter is the first step, and that once he knows more about what’s going on, that he will have a more positive and supportive attitude towards the students,” So said.
“The student union will continue to monitor the university management to ensure that it makes progress … and that these aren’t just empty promises.”
A student who gave only their surname Tseng said Tuan appeared to be covering himself in the letter, however.
“He is only calling for accountability once they have shown that [the allegations] are true,” Tseng said. “But things have gotten to such a state today that there is no need to ‘wait for evidence’ because there is already evidence from the accounts of the people involved, or from news reports.”
“There’s no need for them to investigate further.”
A group of volunteers this week published an independent review of such complaints, saying “transgressions” by the police appeared in some cases to be deliberate, and that video evidence reviewed by them was likely the tip of an iceberg.
“We have found cases where the police are suspected to be involved in physical abuse, refusal to show the Police Warrant Card while performing their duties, obstruction of the press, etc,” the report said.
“The videos we have seen suggest that the transgressions were not merely caused by negligence, but rather deliberate actions … The situation deteriorated as the conflicts escalated,” it said.
The report, which came after U.S. Senator Josh Hawley said during a visit this week that the city is becoming a police state, said the abuse of police powers was undermining the rule of law in Hong Kong.