Thursday, 31 October 2019

Celebrating Halloween with Tear Gas

Sheung Wan got a tear gas buffet around 10pm tonight
As expected, some people did not let warnings from the Hong Kong police deter them to celebrate Halloween. However there weren't many places for them to go. At around 4pm, the organizers of the Lan Kwai Fong Halloween party started setting up water barricades -- the first time they did this.

Not only did this limit the number of people who could be in the already narrow streets of Lan Kwai Fong and D'Aguilar, but also just the sight of these barricades surely put off a lot of people from even bothering to go in.

A person as the Prince Edward MTR station
And in fact the police didn't even want revelers to go into the area (much to the chagrin of restaurant and bar managers and staff in Lan Kwai Fong). So on top of the water barricades, the police surrounded the entrance to the area to further deter people from going in.

It's really overkill and unnecessary.

Nevertheless, people who came out knew they would have to take precautions, and they completely flouted the mask ban by covering up their faces one way or another. And their costumes? They didn't have to look far for inspiration of a political kind.

Many wore masks like the one for V for Vendetta, or painted their faces. Some chose to dress up like Joaquin Phoenix's character Joker, as a statement to stand up against an oppressive government.

One person actually created an elaborate costume of the Prince Edward MTR station, with their head where the station entrance is, and body had the calendar day of August 31, when passengers were brutally attacked by riot police in the station. Some believe that three people are missing and presumed dead, but the government has said medical staff didn't count the number of injured properly.

Today is the second month anniversary of the attack and so the person's costume was very apt tonight.

Many took on the Joker look for Halloween tonight
Another dressed up as someone who had been water cannoned by the police complete with blue dye. In protest lexicon, the person was "Smurfed", referring to the characters whose bodies are blue. Some of my colleagues have been "Smurfed", and have told me they literally have to scrub their skin raw to get rid of the blue dye.

Or how about dressing up as a tear gas canister? All the details are written out on the canister, including the expiry date that has already passed. An inexpensive yet clever costume.

Hong Kong people's creativity is fantastic -- even five months later they are channeling their anger and frustrations into creative satirical costumes.

However, the police have been out in force all over town and Mongkok was the first to have tear gas unleashed around 8pm. There are clips of a young man being pepper sprayed in the face by the police at point blank range, while a woman dressed as Maleficent complete with horns, taunted the police to "spray her ass" and got tackled and arrested.

Or how about being "Smurfed"?
The outrageous behaviour of the police make Hongkongers believe their beloved city is fast sliding into a police state. That is why people are pushing back against the force's actions as much as they can to try to tell them this ridiculous and need to step back and realize what they are doing is not only unlawful but also dangerous.

Recently the government has been mulling the idea of an independent investigation into police brutality. Seems like it's a trial balloon to gauge reaction.

But perhaps Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor should listen to Abraham Shek Lai-him or Abraham Razack, a pro-Beijing lawmaker who represents the property sector in the Legislative Council.

In a recent interview he said the government cannot solve the current crisis with housing policies.

"You cannot buy dignity," he said. "Their five demands did not mention that they want a house. The five demands of young people are that they want justice, fairness and transparency."

Shek himself opposed the extradition bill many months ago and says the government needs to listen to the people.

Many wear the V for Vendetta mask these days
"The rule of law of Hong Kong and the mainland are different. By suddenly plugging this hole -- combining common law, Hong Kong law, and the country's law -- then we will lose [the difference]," he said.

"The three million people [who marched] were not against her. They wanted to protect our existing system."

He also said the government wasn't doing enough to solve the political problem, and the education system should not be blamed for the current situation.

"Our education system was not problematic. We taught many young people to be responsible. They go to [protests], regardless if they are yellow, blue, black or white, because they have ideals," Shek said. "Regardless if they are wrong or not, we have to listen to them. How do we listen? By starting an independent investigation."

Low-tech costume as a tear gas canister. She was busy tonight
Will Lam listen to Shek? He seems to have a very good understanding of the situation. 

Or maybe she's waiting to hear back what Beijing says following the 4th Plenum to see if she still has a job or not...

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Halloween is Cancelled

Halloween in Lan Kwai Fong usually brings out revelers in fun costumes

Halloween should be a festive day for people to dress up in fun costumes, pretending to be someone else for a night wearing masks and such. Wearing masks help people to lose their inhibitions and play harmless tricks on people, or get treats.

But with the ongoing anti-government protests where the government has a controversial mask ban in place, Halloween is going to be pathetic this year.

The annual Halloween Fest at Ocean Park is cancelled
Ocean Park has cancelled its big annual Halloween Fest that was planned for tomorrow, and the MTR will have trains running until 11pm, but Prince Edward station will close at 2pm, while Central will close at 9pm -- just when the reveling gets started in Lan Kwai Fong.

The police have planned to have 3,000 officers stationed on Hong Kong Island, complete with three water cannons and god knows how many canisters of tear gas. And of course there will be lots of police at the Chief Executive's Office in Tamar, and at the liaison office in Sai Ying Pun.

Protesters are calling for a march from Victoria Park to Lan Kwai Fong, and the dress code is for participants to wear face masks of government officials. That in itself is amusing.

Will we see scenes like this tomorrow night?
But alas the police are taking no chances and may plan to install road blocks in Tin Hau, Causeway Bay, Wan Chai, Admiralty and Central.

"Members of the public should avoid traveling to concerned areas when public disorder occurs. Police may also close some roads if necessary," the police said in a statement.

We'll have to see what tomorrow brings...

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Carrie Lam Denies Reality

Carrie Lam claims the violence has to end before peace can come to HK
The insanity that is Hong Kong continues.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam gave her regular press briefing this morning, and blamed the city's "technical recession" on the protesters.

"To get to the root of the problems, we must stop violence and let calmness restore in the city... but it was unfortunately that on Sunday and last night, rioters found some excuses, and engaged in extreme violence."

Protesters are still coming out with masks and umbrellas
When asked by CNN if she had any other political tools to bring peace to Hong Kong, as subsidies to the transport and hospitality industries are just band-aids, Lam reiterated that the violence had to be dealt with first before dialogue could take place, though she added dialogues have already started.

Come on Carrie! The problem is that your inability to listen to the 1 million then 2 million residents of Hong Kong about how they felt about the proposed extradition bill has forced them to escalate their actions to violence. That was the only way you actually paid attention... not that you have solved the issue. Too little too late.

And do you understand that even though there are protesters that are violent, there are many people who may not also be on the streets, but they are quietly supporting these people on the front lines? Or maybe you can't fathom this could possibly be true.

Perhaps you should look at the latest poll by Dr Robert Chung of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.

Your popularity rating has dropped to another historic low of 20.2, according to a telephone poll of 1,038 people between October 17 and 23.

Some MTR stations were vandalized again on the weekend
The previous low was 22.3 earlier this month. That means more than 80 percent of poll respondents gave Lam a vote of no confidence, while 70 percent said they distrusted the government.

Meanwhile an RTHK reporter asked Lam to comment on the Financial Times article last week that claimed the central government was looking to replace her by March. Lam repeated that Beijing was still supportive of her  and parroted the Foreign Ministry in saying the story was "politically motivated", though what exactly the Foreign Ministry said cannot be found on its website anymore...

But there was more aggravating news later in the day. Joshua Wong Chi-fung of Demosisto was finally and formally disqualified from running in next month's district council elections. He is the only candidate to be barred from running because of his political stance.

"The candidate cannot possibly comply with the requirements of the relevant electoral laws, since advocating or promoting 'self-determination' is contrary to the content of the declaration that the law requires a candidate to make to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the HKSAR," returning officer Laura Liang Aron wrote in a six-page report.

Joshua Wong says his disqualification is politically motivated
Wong was clearly not pleased, along with many who believe the voting system has become politicized.

"The ban is clearly political driven," he said. "The so-called reason is judging subjectively on my intention to uphold the Basic Law. But everyone knows the true reason is my identity -- Joshua Wong is a crime in their mind.

"I have never actively advocated independence as an option, but she twisted and wrongly interpreted my remark," he continued, adding that Beijing had clearly exerted great pressure on Hong Kong officials, demonstrated by the original returning officer taking sick leave and the People's Daily calling him an "independence leader".

Wong also points out the question of allegiance does not mention district councils in the legislation, so why are candidates being vetted this way?

What is wrong about having Wong run in the elections? As someone pointed out on Twitter, wouldn't it be better for him to win the election and then be so busy with domestic affairs that he wouldn't be able to travel around the world and advocate freedom for Hong Kong?

Police are using more aggressive tactics to deal with protesters
This decision to disqualify him only further infuriates people -- not just protesters, but even ordinary people who are seeing "one country, two systems" eroding even further.

Wong says he will consider taking legal action after the November 24 district council elections. In the meantime the candidate he was planning to run against, incumbent Judy Chan Ka-pui of the New People's Party is concerned she is not a shoe-in because there is so much backlash against pro-Beijing political parties at the moment.

The apparent meddling by Beijing is enough to keep protesters -- active or not -- focused on the fight. There are too many instances of Hong Kong's rights and freedoms deteriorating that they cannot bear to just stand by and let it happen.

So while there may not look like there are a lot of protesters out on the streets these days, Carrie, they have many more people who have their back.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Journalists Pushback on Police

Photographers wear helmets in protest of police treatment during protests
After following the anti-government protests for 21 weeks and not only witnessing how the Hong Kong police treat protesters and bystanders with excessive force or randomly arresting them without having committed a crime, journalists are fed up with how the police are treating them, hurling verbal abuses and causing bodily harm.

The police are making it harder and harder to report what is going on during the protests. On Friday a Hong Kong court granted an injunction to ban the release of any personal information of police officers.

Journalist Amy Ip raises concerns about police mistreatment
This includes a ban on sharing the officers' and their family members' names, jobs, addresses, emails, birthdays, phone numbers, social media accounts, license plate numbers, photos and other details without their consent.

How is the media supposed to report on what is happening if they don't have complete freedom of the press? Are photographers and videographers not allowed to take pictures or shoot footage of police officers?

So today the media had enough.

This afternoon at the start of the regular 4pm press conference held by the police, a freelance journalist, Amy Ip hijacked the event with a prepared speech, saying how the police have mistreated reporters by tearing off their gas masks, pepper spraying them, and firing rubber bullets at them. She also shone a bright light back at the police, saying this was how the police made it difficult for reporters to do their jobs properly.

As she spoke, the police representatives at the press conference immediately walked out. That didn't deter her from continuing to speak in Cantonese and then English.

She refused to budge until she had said her say. Some reporters joined her and walked out in protest of the police, while others stayed behind.

Reporters have had physical and verbal clashes with police
The press conference was suspended for about half an hour and then when the police representatives returned, Chief Superintendent John Tse Chun-chung expressed "deep regret" over the interruption of the press conference, that it prevented the public from their right to information.


But the information the police give everyday is so vague or so unhelpful, it's no wonder the journalists are fed up with attending these daily press briefings.

When the reporters asked to just move onto the question and answer section of the press conference, a police officer told them to "shut up".

Some reporters have been injured from being directly targeted
This treatment is not going to win the police any points, but then again their reputation has sunk so low, perhaps they don't care anymore.

Another interesting piece of news is that Alan Lau Yip-shing, former deputy police commissioner who was hauled out of retirement in August to help deal with the protests, will now leave, as the situation has "improved".

Lau, a respected veteran with a tough reputation, was appointed to the temporary post of deputy commissioner on special duty to "enhance strategic command and oversee public order events".

Tse explained that Lau had signed on for two three-month blocks for a total of six months, but now that the first three months will have been completed by Thursday, Lau felt there was no need to extend his contract "as the current situation has improved relative to the previous months".

Indonesian reporter Veby Mega Indah has lost her right eye
Lau's main duties were to assist the police commissioner in handling large-scale public order events, such as the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1. He was also in charge of operation Tiderider to deal with the street protests, where he had the final say over tactics deployed.

"To pave the way for his departure, Lau has given field commanders a free hand in the past two weeks to deal with street protesters," a source said.

And in case you are keen on statistics, from June 12 to October 27, the police have fired about 6,100 rounds of tear gas, 2,400 rubber bullets, 550 beanbag rounds, and 700 sponge-tipped rounds at protesters.

How many of those were targeting journalists?

The media will continue to ask the police questions to make then accountable. Hong Kong must not become a police state.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

More Clashes with Police in Kowloon

Police provoke clashes with protesters with pepper spray and tear gas in TST
This afternoon an illegal gathering in Tsim Sha Tsui quickly got very tense. Protesters had gathered in front of the Hong Kong Space Museum on Salisbury Road at 3pm and around 40 minutes later riot police charged at them and fired tear gas... again.

The provocation led to some protesters and media to seek shelter across the street at The Peninsula Hong Kong. They came in while the hotel's iconic afternoon tea session was happening in the lobby, so guests got a dose of tear gas and witnessed what was happening outside.

Some tweeted thanks to the owner of the hotel, Michael Kadoorie, for allowing people to seek refuge in the hotel... but it's too early to tell if this was the hotel policy or not. However, as there have been many protests in the last few months that have happened across the street, hotel staff probably have contingency plans in place.

Nevertheless, Kadoorie had said in August that more needs to be done to help young people.

 Kadoorie has said more needs to be done for young people
"I have spoken many times of how our young people are Hong Kong's future. We cannot leave them in desperation or despair. It is the responsibility of us all to rebuild trust in the community and create hope for the younger generation."

A journalist tweeted that perhaps the Chinese would not look too fondly on The Peninsula and suggest a boycott of the hotel, but so far that hasn't happened.

Businesses just want to be neutral to avoid any backlash, as evidenced by the destruction of shops and cafes that have some kind of mainland Chinese links.

I usually stay holed up at home on Sundays, but had to get out to buy something at the wet market. On the way home I bumped into a chef who looks after two restaurants, one in IFC, the other in Sheung Wan.

Typically the one in the shopping mall does very well, but because of the protests, the mall closes early as a safety precaution, ending hopes of dinner service. It also scares away customers. If they do come, they eat at 6pm and leave by 8pm.

Not just young people, middle-aged protesters clash with police
He said surprisingly the restaurant in Sheung Wan is doing well, perhaps because of the cooler weather and its location is not where protesters are milling around.

Nevertheless, he's had to cut staff, and work harder, taking on any catering requests, at people's homes with full-on white truffle menus, to dinners for 80 people.

He doesn't have an opinion about who is right or wrong -- he just wants the protests to end so that he can go back to business as usual.

However it's not that simple, nor will it end anytime soon.

But this week could give some kind of indication. The fourth plenum of the Communist Party of China will start on Monday and it is expected that the Hong Kong protests will be one of the issues discussed, and what to do with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

A swirling mass of tear gas in Mongkok this evening
Will she stay or will she go?

We'll find out the protesters' reaction this coming weekend...

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Hong Kong Habits Changed by Protests

Ricky Wong of HKTV sees a 40 percent jump in online sales since the protests
The anti-government protests in Hong Kong are now into their 21st week. This is the new normal for the city, and its residents are adapting the best they can.

With the pseudo curfew thanks to the MTR closing early, (now 11pm this week, but 10pm for Saturday and Sunday), it has changed the way people live in the city.

More and more people are shopping online for convenience
People are dining much earlier now, as restaurants need to close early so that their staff can take the MTR to get home. I've heard even wedding banquets, which typically start around 8pm, now finish by 9.30pm so that guests can make their way home.

At the same time taxis, Uber, buses and even trams are getting more business from people who would have normally taken the MTR.

The alternative is staying housebound and having everything delivered to you. Online shopping has gone up over 40 percent in Hong Kong, with people ordering prepared food to groceries, clothes and even furniture at the click of a mouse.

Before the protests people would have personally gone to shops because they were close by or they were purchasing something they had to examine in person. And grocery shopping... everyone picks their own produce, right?

However there are some people who now really depend on these services to continue functioning and it's created a boon for these delivery companies. We all need to eat, right?

The Rosewood offers a luxurious deal for a room
Hotels are hurting badly from so few tourists coming to Hong Kong and are pushing staycation deals to local residents. Some offers are too hard to pass up -- a room for a night plus dining credit that covers more than half the price of the room... Sad but true.

High-end hotels like Rosewood in Tsim Sha Tsui that opened earlier this year are offering two nights accommodation for the price of one night. If you are into over-the-top luxury, this is an unbeatable price. Personally I'd rather stay home, but there are some people who want to feel pampered.

Everyone in the hospitality industry, from hotels and restaurants to retail must be pressuring the government to do something to end the protests. But is Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor listening? The government is doling out subsidies for those in the transportation sector, and encouraged landlords to help their tenants. This isn't enough or much to give people hope the government is concerned about them.

Banquets now finish much earlier for guests to go home
As one chef-owner told me recently, now it's survival of the richest -- who has the deepest pockets to keep operating in these adverse times...

Friday, 25 October 2019

Ilham Tohti's Award for Humanism

Academic Ilham Tohti was awarded the EU Parliament's top human rights prize
Ilham Tohti, a respected Uighur academic, economist and writer who has been jailed for life since 2014, has been awarded the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament's top human rights prize.

We wrote about his being charged for separatism and at the time were shocked by this -- he is considered a moderate voice and urged the Chinese government to invest in minority populations, to promote more Uighur cadres to positions of real responsibility, and establish a framework of legal protections for ethnic autonomy.  Instead the Chinese authorities deemed him to be a "separatist" and sentenced to life in prison.

EU Parliament President David Sassoli
The EU Parliament said Tohti, who was a former professor at Minzu University, was awarded the Sakharov Prize for his attempts to "foster dialogue" between Chinese people and Uighurs. "The parliament calls on the Chinese authorities to release him immediately," EU Parliament President David Sassoli said.

"By awarding this prize, we strongly urge the Chinese government to release Tohti and we call for the respect of minority rights in China," Sassoli said.

The Sakharov Prize for free speech is awarded annually by the EU Parliament in memory of Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. The award was created in 1988 and awarded to "those who carry the spirit of dissident Andrei Sakharov", who dedicate their lives to the peaceful struggle for human rights.

Andrei Sakharov won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975
It is hard to find out how Tohti is doing. According to liberal EU legislator Phil Bennion, the Uighur academic has been in solitary confinement for years and hasn't seen his family since 2017. Bennison hopes Beijing will allow a delegation of EU legislators to visit him in prison to tell him the news of the award. However, it seems highly unlikely.

Last month Tohti was also awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights prize by the Council of Europe, which is not an EU institution, but acts as Europe's human rights watchdog.

The Andrei Sakharov prize will be presented in Strasbourg, France on December 18.

Perhaps his daughter, Jewher Ilham, who is now living in the United States, will accept the award on her father's behalf.

She says the award recognizes the "suffering that Uighurs have gone through.

Tohti's daughter, Jewher Ilham who lives in the US
"Everyday I wake up worrying about my family members in China, and of course, I'm afraid. When my dad first started speaking up for the Uighurs, he knew he could end up in prison. But he decided to take on this fight and continue on for other people's sake."

Sadly, Tohti's imprisonment was a foreshadowing of what was to come. In 2017 China began building "schools" in Xinjiang for Uighurs to undergo "reeducation". Academics have estimated at least 1 million people have been held in these camps where Uighurs are forced to undergo indoctrination programs, like studying Chinese propaganda and learning about Xi Jinping thought.

When will this horrific nightmare end for Uighurs? When will Tohti be free?

The world must continue to press for Tohti to be released, as well as his fellow compatriots who are stuck behind the walls of these camps. The Vaclav Havel Human Rights prize and now the Andrei Sakharov Prize are highlighting Tohti's plight and the need to push China to stop this inhumane treatment of its own people.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Fact of the Day: Almost US$1 Million Parking Spot

The Center in Hong Kong's Central district has a really expensive parking spot
Hong Kong can proudly say that even though its economy is tanking because of five months of anti-government protests, the city is still having record-breaking property transactions.

The latest is the world's most expensive parking spot in Central for US$969,000, or US$7,205 per square foot for a space that measures 134.5 square feet.

The price of the parking spot is US$7,205 per square foot
Yep a parking spot. It's located in a prime area, an office building called The Center, a building that also has the record of being the most costliest commercial building ever sold at US$15.5 billion last year.

The price of the parking spot, HK$7.6 million, is more than three times Hong Kong's median home price, which itself had topped the global rankings for nine consecutive years, according to CBRE.

Keep in mind that about one in five people in Hong Kong live below the poverty line, and so this property transaction underscores the immense wealth gap in the city.

"Good times or bad times, there are still ultra-rich people paying whatever needed to get what they like," explains James Mak, Midland Commercial's district sales director.

Many live in spaces smaller than a parking spot in Hong Kong
There are only 402 parking spots in The Center for 1.2 million square feet of office space, and the average price for these spots is HK$6 million.

Guess whoever bought that HK$7.6 million parking spot really, really needed it...

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Extradition Bill Finally Withdrawn, Carrie Drama Continues

Chan Tong-kai with Reverend Canon Peter Koon this morning
Ironically, Chan Tong-kai, the man at the centre of the extradition bill was released from prison this morning, and that bill that has caused almost five months of protests, was formally withdrawn today in the Legislative Council.

The 20-year-old Chan finished serving 19 months out of the 29-month sentence he received for money laundering charges, but he is a murder suspect in the killing of his pregnant girlfriend last February in Taiwan.

Chan bows to the media before getting into the white van
This morning he walked out of Pik Uk Correctional Institution in Clearwater Bay a free man and bowed before giving a statement to the media where he apologized to the victim's family and the people of Hong Kong.

"I am willing, for my impulsive act and things I did wrong, to surrender myself to Taiwan to face sentencing," he said, adding he had made the "worst mistake" that could not be reversed.

He added: "I hope this can make her family feel slightly relieved, and [the deceased girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing] can rest in peace."

Chan thanked his parents and said: "Even though I've made the worst mistake, they still care for me, support me and won't give up on me."

He begged Hongkongers for forgiveness before bowing for a second time and then left in a seven-seater white van.

John Lee formally withdraws extradition bill in Legco
Now Hong Kong and Taiwan have to figure out what the next legal steps are, if Taiwanese authorities come here to formally arrest Chan, or he can go there and be arrested in Taiwan. Nevertheless the man is willing to face his crime so the two parties should work together to find a way for Poon's family to receive some justice for their daughter's grisly murder.

In the afternoon, Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu walked into the Legislative Council and formally withdrew the much-hated extradition bill.

"As members of the public have diverging views over the bill, which has created social conflicts, the government has decided to suspend the legislation effort following research and reflection," Lee said in the Legco meeting on Wednesday.

"To spell out the government's position clearly over the legislation effort, in accordance with Legco's rule 64(2), I formally announce the withdrawal of the bill."

The FT reported Carrie Lam could be replaced by March
While the bill was finally withdrawn -- with hardly any fanfare -- protesters are not exactly jubilant. They have four other demands they want to be met, including universal suffrage, not calling protesters "rioters", and an independent inquiry into police brutality.

Probably what piqued their interest today was the intriguing article from the Financial Times that claimed Beijing is looking to replace Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor by March. The list of candidates to succeed her include Norman Chan Tak-lam, former head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and Henry Tang Ying-nien, a former financial secretary and chief secretary.

However the immediate reaction from pan-democratic lawmakers was that Lam could not just be replaced, that according to the Basic Law, another election for chief executive should be held. Nevertheless there is the precedent of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen who immediately replaced Tung Chee-hwa in 2005.

Possibly replacing Lam are Norman Chan and Henry Tang
The string of chief executives we have had in Hong Kong have all been disasters, which is why Hongkongers are demanding universal suffrage to be able to choose their own leader. It's obvious the system of Beijing deciding on the candidates does not work, with Lam being the latest, and a total catastrophe of exponential proportions.

But by late afternoon Beijing dispelled the FT report, saying it was a "political rumour with ulterior motives behind it".

The foreign ministry spokeswoman said the central government still firmly supported Lam and the Hong Kong government's efforts to stop violence and restore order as soon as possible.

If that's the case, things in Hong Kong won't be getting better anytime soon...

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Health Concerns About Tear Gas

What are the health effects from inhaling tear gas after five months in HK?
The Hong Kong government seems to think residents don't need to be concerned about the impact of some 5,000 rounds of tear gas that have been fired after almost five months of protests.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said today that water and air quality in Hong Kong have not been affected by the firing of tear gas.

Health minister Sophia Chan doesn't have any concerns
On a radio show today, Chan said: "According to the air quality index recorded by the Environmental Protection Department, there are no irregularities from June till now," she said, adding the Water Supplies Department reported similar findings.

She added that tear gas had a limited diffusion range, and that there had been directions given to cleaners on handling affected areas.

Her statements contradict what local medical professors wrote in the medical journal The Lancet, where they reported the deployment of tear gas in subtropical environments such as Hong Kong could expose people to high concentrations of chemical irritants over a prolonged period.

The professors also raised concerns about the lack of government-led decontamination and urged the administration to invest in health surveillance and long-term environmental monitoring.

Emily Chan authored a report in The Lancet
In an article published in The Lancet last week, the medical team led by Professor Emily Chan Ying-Yang, of Chinese University, said she was concerned about tear gas deployment in enclosed spaces, such as busy railway stations and near commercial shopping centres, as well as high-density residential areas that sit in the "hot and humid subtropical environment of Hong Kong".

The tear gas used by police contains o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, an irritant that interacts with mucocutaneous sensory nerve receptors, according to the report. Emily Chan said the government should have official guidelines and self-help advice on dealing with the side effects of tear gas.

Citing a published systematic review of 5,910 people exposed to chemical irritants, the team said two had reportedly died, and there were cases of permanent disabilities, including blindness, vegetative state from traumatic brain injury, amputations and loss of limb function, as well as persistent respiratory complaints, among 58 others.

Humidity in subtropical areas could cause tear gas to linger
"However, data on long-term sequelae, carcinogenicity, and environmental consequences in the urban context are scarce," the medical team wrote.

The government doesn't seem to care about the health affects of accumulated tear gas fired on people every week in Hong Kong, nor does it care to keep track of how it impacts residents.

We may not see the effects until a few months or years down the road. By then it will be hard to prove it was tear gas.

Just another sign the government has a hands-off approach to making Hong Kong better.

Perhaps even more ironic is that health minister Sophia Chan also warned people that flu season was around the corner and encouraged people who were unwell to wear masks despite the anti-mask ban in place.

We may not know the long-term effects of tear gas
Just demonstrates how some people don't really have long-term thinking in Hong Kong...

Monday, 21 October 2019

In a First, Carrie Lam Apologizes

Carrie Lam inside Kowloon Mosque with members of the Muslim community
In a first, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and the police force apologized to the Muslim community today about spraying blue dye on the steps of Kowloon Mosque.

Before noon she and an entourage of people walked along Nathan Road then up the steps to the mosque. She wore a suit with a long scarf around her neck, but she did not use it to cover her head as is customary for Muslim women.

Lam and Stephen Lo apologized for the water at the mosque
In any event, Lam and police chief Stephen Lo Wai-chung met with members of the Islamic Trust, a local community group, where both insisted the coloured water hitting the mosque was an accident. They were inside the mosque for 25 minutes and then Lam and Lo left without taking questions from reporters.

Later the government said the chief executive and police commissioner had "explained [the incident] again to the Muslim representatives", and Lam had apologized "for the inadvertent spraying of the mosque's main entrance and gate with coloured water".

Then in the afternoon the police force issued a statement, saying it apologized for the incident, saying the aim of the dispersal operation was to protect the mosque.

"Police respect religious freedom... and will spare no effort in protecting all religious premises," it said.

During the daily press conference today, the police trotted out Swalikh Mohammed, superintendent at the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau, himself a Muslim, to explain the dispersal operation to the media.

Moments after the water cannon sprayed the mosque yesterday
Mohammed has nothing to do with what happened yesterday, but the police wants to show it is diverse in its ethnicities.

He said the police were in touch with the community and tried to recruit volunteers to help clean up the mosque soon after the incident. The police also apologized to bystanders who were caught up in the incident.

Does that mean they apologized to the witnesses and reporters who were just standing there at the time?

Representatives from the Muslim community at the meeting with Lam and Lo accepted their apologies, but Mohan Chugani, former president of the Indian Association of Hong Kong does not; he said the water cannon clearly took aim at bystanders including himself, even though there were no protesters around.

He said Lam personally called him to apologize, and while he accepts it in principle, he still plans to make a formal complaint to the police.

St Andrew's Church also got blue dye
"I told her [Lam] that police should not do that to innocent bystanders, no one should be subjected to that," Chugani said. "The police should exercise their common sense."

What's interesting is that previously Chugani was seen on stage at pro-police rallies, but now he has changed his mind about the force.

"I feel there is no more law and order in Hong Kong," he said.

Meanwhile, there was another religious building that was inadvertently sprayed yesterday -- St Andrew's Church, which is near the mosque.

At first the police didn't apologize to the church, but have since said sorry to vicar Alex McRoy.

"We understand that the use of the cannon... can be indiscriminate," he said.

When asked his thoughts about the ongoing unrest in the city, McRoy said there had been a lot of grief in society and there would not be an easy solution for this "complex issue", and urged Hongkongers to listen to each other with empathy.

Hongkongers expect more empathy from Lam to resolve crisis
Wonder if he has given the same advice to Lam, who might want to apologize to those Hongkongers who were inadvertently attacked with tear gas and pepper spray, for arresting innocent bystanders, for mistreating those they have arrested, in particular children, for creating unnecessary anxiety when the anti-mask ban was instituted, for the police mistreating reporters, and perhaps most importantly, for not withdrawing the extradition bill earlier.

If she had we would not be still in the 20th week of protests with no end in sight...

Sunday, 20 October 2019

The Violence and Confrontations Continue

A big turnout for an illegal gathering at Tsim Sha Tsui this afternoon
Today has been another day of protests that started off peacefully in Tsim Sha Tsui with an estimated 350,000 people that soon escalated with tear gas and water cannons.

There was lots of criticism aimed at the police after they fired water mixed with blue dye and pepper spray at the steps of Kowloon Mosque in Tsim Sha Tsui when there were only a few people, none of them protesters on the sidewalk.

A water cannon fired blue dye at Kowloon Mosque
Earlier protesters were at pains to tell people not to attack the mosque, as a few days earlier Civil Human Rights Front convenor Jimmy Sham Tze-kit had been ambushed by South Asian men who are still at large.

But this time it was the police who created a mess, and some protesters along with some Muslims quickly went to work to clean off as much of the blue dye as possible, while others had to be treated for the effects of pepper spray on their faces and bodies.

There was a torrent of criticism against the police on social media, and several hours later, a group of police representatives, led by Yam Tsim District Commander Ho Yun-sing, went to Kowloon Mosque and had a 45-minute meeting with several Muslim community leaders.

Afterwards, the police group, that included Senior Superintendent Yolanda Yu Hoi-kwan from the Police Public Relations Branch, does not answer any questions from reporters on whether they had apologized for the incident.

Soon after protesters cleaned up the entrance to the mosque
One would hope that they did...

In the meantime tonight more shops have been vandalized or set on fire, including China Merchant's Bank, Tong Ren Tang, Xiaomi, Uniso, Best Mart 360, BEA, and Yoshinoya, and some MTR stations. The vandalism is hardly productive, and even attacking places like BEA that have no mainland Chinese links is ridiculous, while Best Mart 360 has strenuously denied any relationship with China but the protesters have ignored the company's statements.

Vandalizing these businesses is not doing anyone any good and is negatively affecting the anti-government movement. If anything shops and restaurants have to shut down because they are broken into, leading to people losing jobs in this already precarious economic environment we are in now.

A Xiaomi store was set on fire in Kowloon
Chefs who are also restaurateurs have told me how their business has plunged because of the protests. People have lost interest in going out for a nice meal (and spending the money to go with it), and would rather just eat in a neighbourhood restaurant to fill their stomachs. Others have to shut down their restaurants because they are located in shopping malls that close early.

One chef told us the restaurant staff have to leave early to be able to have enough time to get home on the MTR. For example, if they are riding the MTR just before it closes at 10pm, that does not mean they can arrive home in Yuen Long within an hour -- the station shuts down all the exits at 10pm and the passengers have to find another way home, which is bizarre.

Last night I managed to catch the MTR home from Wan Chai at 12 minutes to 10pm. We got out of the MTR train at 10.01pm and only one exit was open and all passengers had to get out this way, while the other ones had rolling shutters down. One lone person was manning the open exit to make sure no one tried to come in.

A Best Mart 360 was vandalized... but not looted
In this way the MTR is not being very helpful or flexible for people catching the last trains back home. Some people finish work late and they live far from their work place. This is just another way to put further pressure on Hong Kong's already fragile economy.

This is not the Lion Rock spirit. Or is this the government's way of killing Hong Kong?

We sincerely hope not. None of us want to see the city like this!