This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Police fired tear gas at crowds of people in Hong Kong on Christmas Day in the latest in a string of operations targeting peaceful protesters, Christmas shoppers, tourists and passers-by that saw more than 100 people arrested during the festive season.
Police stormed shopping malls in the New Territories town of Shatin, making at least two arrests, while officers in full riot gear faced off with angry local residents, tear gassing streets and firing pepper spray at journalists outside Langham Place.
“Not the kind of white Christmas that I asked for,” protest account @Fight4HongKong tweeted in the early hours of Wednesday.
“Multiple tear gas fired in the first hour of #Christmas in Tsim Sha Tsui, filling streets with white tear smoke,” the tweet said.
Protesters have continued to gather in spite of heavy-handed actions by police, holding protest banners and wearing black clothing, masks, with some public chanting for independence for the city, social media posts and live video streams showed.
A camera operator working for government broadcaster RTHK was shoved by one officer with a riot shield, while other members of the press corps were “drenched in pepper spray,” the station reported.
It said riot police surrounded the Langham Place mall in Mong Kok, “arguing and trading insults with protesters, shoppers and passers-by.”
Meanwhile, dozens of protesters turned out in Telford Plaza in Kowloon Bay singing the anthem of the protest movement, Glory to Hong Kong.
Riot police charged in at around 9.00 p.m., pursuing protesters up and down escalators.
The ongoing attempts at dispersing sporadic protests with force came as police said they had arrested at least 105 people on Tuesday night for “illegal assembly” after a group of protesters marched through Wanchai towards the Central business district.
A total of 58 men and 47 women aged between 13 and 58 were arrested for shouting slogans, occupying pedestrian walkways and causing inconvenience to the public, police said in a statement.
One 23-year-old was arrested on suspicion of possessing an offensive weapon after being found with a laser pen typically used as a pointer in presentations.
Many of those arrested were in ordinary clothing, rather than the protective gear typically used by frontline protesters.
The arrests came after a 16-year-old young man was injured during a police raid involving pepper ball guns after falling one story to the ground. Police denied using force against him.
The renewed violence came as the Washington Post ran an in-depth feature saying that the Hong Kong police had repeatedly ignored their own operating guidelines on the use of force against protesters.
The article said police guidelines were often ignored by police, “who have misused chemical agents and used excessive force against protesters not resisting,” citing policing experts who examined dozens of video clips of incidents.
One obvious violation of the guidelines was the use of tear gas in enclosed spaces, the report said.
Another was the use of water cannon that affected bystanders who had little or no involvement in the clashes, violating the principles of necessity and proportionality, it said.
The guidelines also allow individual officers to determine what is a reasonable level of force when policing protests and making arrest, making abuse of police power more likely, the report found.
Experts told the paper that the Hong Kong police had gone against their own rules in about 70 percent of the incidents reviewed, and found that the use of force could be justified in about eight percent of cases.
Police responded to the article by claiming that the video clips were taken out of context.
“We often see reports that ignore the intentional acts of lawbreakers and violent protesters but focus only on the response of the authorities,” the police responded to the article.
“Many media and online reports use short and edited videos that are taken out of context and fail to show the full picture of how radical protesters’ use of extreme violence has necessitated a justifiable Police response,” it said.