In June 2019, people in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region started to witness an unprecedented period of chaos, anarchism and lawlessness which lasted for a whole year. It was not until the National Security Law for Hong Kong was enacted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and then came into effect in Hong Kong on June 30, 2020, that law and order was by and large restored. During the darkest days in the second half of 2019, thousands of black-clad youngsters, most of them wearing face masks and helmets, clashed with riot police in streets, subway stations, university campuses and outside police stations under siege. Improvised weapons, bricks, catapults, petrol bombs, corrosive liquid and even bows and arrows were used extensively by the rioters, while police officers, who were outnumbered on most occasions, responded by firing tear gas, rubber bullets, beanbags and in three incidents opened fire with sidearms. Perhaps with a hidden agenda, some media in other countries reported such commotions one-sidedly by accusing the police and describing how noble those “protesters” were. The extent of misinformation and exaggeration, nevertheless, made many ordinary Hong Kong residents like me wonder if the foreign press had ever asked their reporters based in the city to conduct impartial observations or investigations before writing news articles.
As a practicing lawyer specializing in criminal law, I felt obliged to write something to explain to people in other countries what the truth was behind such horrifying stories. Were these so-called peaceful protesters doing nothing more than yelling slogans and asking the HKSAR government to shelve the proposed legislation to extradite fugitives to the jurisdictions where they had committed the crime? Did the unprovoked Hong Kong Police Force personnel really beat up innocent people? Did the riot police shoot at protesters who were just taking part in lawful processions?
Like many Hong Kong residents, I personally had encountered scenarios like the following. Taking advantage of the highly efficient and inexpensive public transportation systems, I seldom drive my car to office. Yet I was unfortunate to come across three occasions when I drove my car into roads — all main thoroughfares — barricaded by masked, weapon-wielding protesters and had to make U-turns. Inevitably, my journeys ended up taking twice the time that I had expected, as many other roads were also blocked by similar mobs. One day in November 2019, knowing from the news that the East Rail (which links several key satellite towns in the New Territories and the commercial areas of Kowloon) and many underground railway lines were paralyzed by protesters who tried to force other people to join their “three big strikes”, i.e., cessation of offices, shops and classes, I decided to drive to work. It was the most terrifying driving experience I have ever had. My car traveled for some 4 to 5 kilometers on the busiest streets in Kowloon and none of the traffic lights at road junctions and pedestrian crossings were working. All were vandalized, with debris scattered on the ground. I later learned from the news that there were several traffic accidents, some resulting in serious injuries, caused by such chaos on this unforgettable day. I regarded myself as very lucky. Indeed, like many law-abiding Hong Kong people, I had exercised a high degree of vigilance in those months, and avoided staying in troublesome districts after dusk. We simply did not want to be in a shopping mall or a restaurant which was a vandalism target of the masked mobs.
There were too many examples of mob rule in Hong Kong at that time, and I could not narrate them one by one. The 30,000-strong police was the only force which the HKSAR government could rely on to restore law and order. With exceptional tolerance and self-restraint, the police were the underdogs in the first four to five months of the commotion. Anti-riot squads used limited levels of force to deal with the riots despite the extent of violence they faced. According to statistics released by the police, in the 12 months since mid-June 2019, more than 600 police officers were injured in various attacks and scuffles. As of Nov 1, 2020, i.e., 17 months after the first riot took place, seven seriously injured police officers were still on sick leave. One of them, who was splashed with corrosive liquid and sustained a large area of skin burns, had been undergoing treatment in a hospital for more than 18 months. According to police statistics, during the six months since mid-June 2019, rioters laid siege to 38 different police buildings a total of 280 times. In most of these sieges, petrol bombs and bricks were thrown at the officers on guard. Disregarding the safety of elderly residents and children living inside, mobs also attacked the married officers’ quarters on 32 occasions and committed crimes such as arson, criminal damage and criminal intimidation. However, despite such serious challenges to the police, no rioter was killed in any law enforcement actions.
I wonder what the thousands of foreigners, especially those from the United States, who were in Hong Kong during the latter half of 2019, think of the blatantly false reports and smearing exercises made by the Western mainstream media. Have they ever thought what the consequences would be if this happened in the US?
These Western media reporters owe an apology to the Hong Kong police.
The author is a practicing solicitor in Hong Kong, specializing in criminal law, wills and probate, as well as cross-border legal matters between the Chinese mainland and the SAR.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS