Police can now break up "suspicious" gatherings of three or more people
Need another sign that Hong Kong is becoming more like the motherland?
Hong Kong police now have the power to prevent "suspicious" gatherings of three or more people from turning into a protest. The new guideline from the force's management last week focuses more on "preventive" handling of unauthorized protests and is now in effect in all districts.
This enforcement of the Public Order Ordinance came out due to the gau wu protests in Mongkok which are not formally organized, and people pretend to shop right at closing time, forcing the establishments to stay open, and yet they don't purchase anything.
Another are the recent protests against parallel traders that have rotated to places like Sha Tin, Tuen Mun, and Sheung Shui. These recent incidents have escalated to violent altercations with the authorities, resulting in the use of pepper spray and arrests.
"If officers deem a gathering could cause breach of the peace or threat to public safety, we would not allow the participants to proceed," a source said. "We would demand that they produce identification and disperse, and follow them around if they did not leave. Anyone who refuses to comply can be arrested for obstructing police."
This warning sounds like it will invite more friction with the police, as protesters have become more defiant following the end of the Occupy protests in December. And following people around? Could citizens sue the police for stalking and infringing on their personal freedom of movement? Would be interesting to see how lawyers interpret this.
The source adds that if things escalate further, the crack Police Tactical Unit would be deployed to patrol the streets. Are Hong Kong protests really degenerating to this point? Or is this a scare tactic to indicate protesters here are out to create chaos, or that the police force isn't trained enough to deal with them?
The enforcement of the ordinance dates back to 1967 during the Hong Kong riots, where gatherings of more than three people without police permission were outlawed. Since the handover protest organizers must inform the police of their plans and get approval. Previously this law was aimed mostly at suspected triad members.
But with the enforcement of the guidelines, it appears like the police are looking at protesters like triad members...
"Before the Occupy movement, if police found a group of people wearing masks and carrying rucksacks gathering on the streets at night, we would check what they were up to and consider whether they were linked to triads," said a senior police officer.
He said the police were extra tolerant during and after Occupy, allowing people to gather without approval. "We showed them more than enough tolerance during Occupy."
They would have had to tolerate tens of thousands of people who poured onto Queensway on September 28 because the authorities were completely outnumbered.
Now they believe they have the upper hand. So there.
But what does this really show? It demonstrates the Hong Kong government is still sheepishly hiding behind the police and would rather the force deal with unruly protesters than try to engage in constructive dialogue and try to hammer out some kind of resolution to the socio-economic conflicts we are seeing in the city on a daily basis.
As a result should we be surprised that public sentiment here is the worst its been in 16 months following a survey released by the University of Hong Kong. The Public Sentiment Index compiled by HKU's Public Opinion Program (POP) fell to 61.8 points on March 8, down 5.9 points from the previous survey at the end of February and at its lowest level since November 2013.
With these new police measures in place, people's unhappiness with Hong Kong will deepen even further...