As a Hong Kong resident, a hallowed status that can only be achieved after living there for seven years or more, I used to love reading a column in the ‘local’ paper, the South China Morning Post, that was usually entitled thus – ‘Only in Hong Kong’. It was written by a popular Western journalist, Nury Vittachi, who was also the husband of a colleague who taught my daughters at the famous and rather brilliant Island School. He would regularly describe some of the more eccentric and bizarre aspects of life in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) and it made for some excellent entertainment.
I remain worried and concerned for all of my friends who are in Hong Kong as the eyes of the world watch and wait to see how this ‘Umbrella Revolution’ as it is being dubbed, develops. I am continually scanning my Facebook feed for messages from them – for now everyone seems to be doing OK. An ex-pupil of mine bemoaned her ill-health, having contracted a chest infection which prevents her from returning to the streets this evening. I told her how proud I am of her and all of the people there who are taking a significant stand against a dangerous and powerful overlord – the Chinese government. But still, I remind my friends to stay safe.
I am also delighted when there are repeated sharings of stories that fit the bill – ‘Only in HK’ – and the BBC have picked up on several of these. For example, Hong Kong students, diligently studious at the best of times, continuing to ensure their homework is completed properly WHILST they #OCCUPY CENTRAL and other areas! The BBC news page is also quite taken with the idea that protesters continue to tidy up after themselves, three days into the protest. Please, go read their stories, which says so much about the people in Hong Kong.
My favourite of the past couple of days has been the protesters who were recycling water bottles into improvised gas-masks, to be freely distributed amongst their comrades, in case the Hong Kong Police decide to attack the unarmed crowds with chemical weapons once more. It is typical creativity that shows us how alive and well Hong Kong actually IS.
When I read this eye-witness account, by a barrister from the SAR I was stirred, emotionally, to want to find a way to do whatever I can to help the cause of the protesters. They are not just political activists – anyone who has ever lived in Hong Kong at all will tell you that politics is a long way down the list of priorities of ordinary people. These are people who, with that very great conviction one holds because of the knowledge of the absolute ‘rightness’ of your standpoint, are doing that which they know MUST be done, if they are to call themselves free people. I’m reproducing the letter in full because not only is it eloquently written, it explains the circumstances far better than I can, from such a great distance. I hope you take the time to read it.
30 Seconds before they fired on civilians
Please share this story. This is my eye witness account and my thoughts on the HK protests.
I was standing in the crowd 15 – 20 metres behind the police cordon on Gloucester Road. My wife and sister-in-law were by my side. So were a small group of friends. We are by all accounts middle class normal and conservative.
The crowd wanted to join up with the students and protesters stranded in Civic Square. So yes, there was some pushing from time to time at the police cordon. There were no weapons. Just umbrellas to defend against pepper spray. The police would grab at the umbrellas from time to time even when unprovoked and spray when they created an opening.
Needless to say, the protesters were easily repelled by police with pepper spray and they made no headway. The crowd started to settle – some people started sitting down.
We being conservative did not dare to go to the front. The atmosphere was co-operative calm and very peaceful for a crowd of several thousand strong.
Martin Lee was ushered into the front. He was helped up onto a concrete bollard to make a speech. He was about 2-3 metres in front of me.
He tried to start several times. But some pepper spray flew into his direction. He was unperturbed. He tried to hush the crowd down. He lifted both hands up and gestured everyone to quieten down. He was given two microphones. He started speaking – he said “friends”.
And then without any audible warning (remember the crowd was relatively quiet as it was anticipating a speech), there was a bang.
I recognised the bang either as a round from a grenade launcher or when a CS (teargas) canister explodes. The grenade landed 2-3 metres behind where Martin was standing.
It engulfed him. I couldn’t see him.
Another canister or round landed 2-3 metres to my left. I grabbed hold of my wife and sister-in-law and we walked away from the scene.
Everyone was shocked and angry. But everyone was calm, urging everyone else not to run, not to step on people who stumbled.
Some people started throwing bottles back at the police. Immediately the crowd told them to stop. And they stopped. This is the most remarkable protest attitude I have ever witnessed.
By this time my eyes ears and throat and lungs were searing. We lost contact with our friends (who were safe) and the three of us calmly walked away. My wife and sister in law started crying – not from the pain but the anguish at what Hong Kong has become – we couldn’t believe that the HK police would do this to its own people whom they pledged to protect and serve.
You have all heard about how partaking in unlawful assembles amounts to breaking the law. The insinuation is that you are morally corrupt to protest in such a way.
This is wrong and philosophically and jurisprudentially indefensible.
We should never confuse the twin concepts of justice and law as one and the same. Justice is fairness for all. The law is merely the expression of justice. If the law is unfair or immoral, it is for our government to bring it into conformity with justice.
If our government fails, the remedy of last resort is peaceful civil disobedience. In other words to protest with the aim of changing the law.
The fallacy of the HKSAR Government’s argument that protests are unlawful and in breach of the law and must be quashed at all costs is due to circular and false assumptions: (i) that the law represents justice absolutely; and (ii) that any contravention is absolutely wrong.
Instead, the twin concepts of Justice and fairness should in reality demand that our government represent our views even despite the fact that it is not a representative government. This is why we have the Basic Law which enshrined the separation of powers between the trinity of law makers, the executive and the judiciary and the promise of universal suffrage.
To the HKSAR government: Your failure to represent Hong Kong’s interests fairly and in accordance with justice is your biggest failing. You have abused the name of the law and undermined the spirit and purpose of the Basic Law. You no longer have any constitutional legitimacy. Shame on you.
To our law enforcement officers: You pledged to serve and protect the people – not to the governmental framework who oppresses the people. You have blindly followed your unconstitutional orders. Shame on you.
There was no justification, no situation that made it necessary, no rational objective in the circumstance to fire chemical weapons on us, a peaceful crowd exercising our right to civil disobedience with a legitimate public interest objective.
For those who are still trying to defend the actions of the Hong Kong police force for some self-serving interest, Shame on you.
For those who don’t know already, Martin Lee is a Hong Kong politician who has repeatedly called for the honouring of the principle of Universal Suffrage that was agreed by the Chinese Government in 1984. He is a very well known public speaker in Hong Kong, who has often spoken with great passion and loquaciousness on all topics that are related to democracy. He is a reasonable and well-respected man.
It is so important that the stories such as the one this barrister has documented are heard around the world. I will continue to keep my friends in Hong Kong in the foremost of my mind over the coming days. They need our support.
Thank you for reading, once again.