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Why Hong Kong's protesters must stop now.

Peter Lee

What were once peaceful demonstrations against a Hong Kong Bill that would, incidentally to its main purpose, have facilitated extradition to China for a wide range of offences, have become expensive, disruptive and divisive. Every day seems like a new turning point where protesters increase the lengths they are willing to go to, often seemingly with the specific intent of provoking a reaction from the police which the protesters then claim was unduly harsh. And the UN and the USA aren't helping.

The calls for an inquiry into allegations of police brutality in the early days have, as in all civilised societies, some merit. That is not to say that there was brutality, but merely that an inquiry is a feature of well functioning societies. But the situation has moved on and the protesters are now "showing solidarity" with a woman who was, it is claimed but there is no firm evidence that it was such a round, hit in the eye by a bean bag round and suffered injury.

There are some videos showing some officers being excessive in their use of batons or, in one case, using a "non-lethal" gun in a way that is contrary to instructions (firing horizontally, from the shoulder, at close range). However, the vast majority of material available via broadcasters or on-line shows remarkable restraint by the police in the face of violent attacks on the public, on public buildings, on officers and, even, on officers' families in their own homes. The incidents in HK airport yesterday of the kidnapping of individuals and torturing them, one, reports say, to the point of unconsciousness, have gone too far. Those responsible tied a man to an airport trolley and beat him for almost an hour, preventing paramedics reaching him. It was only after the intervention of the police that he was rescued and taken to hospital. There are also reports that a gang isolated a police officer and beat him badly. It is said that he drew his weapon but did not fire and that he was eventually rescued by fellow officers. (edit: there is now available on various news outlets a video showing this incident).

So far, the police have used tear gas, pepper spray, non-lethal rounds. While water cannon have been brought out of storage, they have not been used. It is difficult to see how, with the exception of isolated incidents, the police have behaved in anything other than a highly restrained manner.

It has to be remembered that a group of protesters gained access to LegCo where they vandalised the premises. They were allowed out unharmed. One has to ask - would they have even got into the US Congress or the UK's Houses of Parliament or would they have been met with forceful ejection and arrest?

Add in firebomb attacks on public buildings including police stations and it is clear that a small number of protesters (the South China Morning Post calls them "radicals") are hell bent on serious civil disorder. The police response has been remarkably light handed.

Sadly, the United Nations has said "there was “credible evidence” of law enforcement officials using some anti-riot measures which are “prohibited by international norms and standards”. Thankfully, another of its offices, the UNODC, had a far more sensible approach - which is indeed exactly what senior officers repeatedly tell media is what they have done throughout : it "urged the authorities to “act with restraint” and to respect and protect peaceful protesters while simultaneously ensuring that law enforcement officials respond to violence and in conformity with international standards on the use of force, “including the principles of necessity and proportionality”.

So, public inquiry? Yes, because that's a function of good government. A reason for the continued, escalating, violence by protesters? Absolutely not. The fact that it's out of control, or is in the control of a tiny number of violent agitators, is another reason for reasonable people to stop joining the protests. Ironically, the best protest now is to stop protesting and support the police against the violent minority who have, for whatever reason, hijacked the agenda and the protests.