A pro-democracy demonstrator is held on the ground before being arrested by undercover police during a protest calling for the city's independence in Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on May 10. (Photo: Isaac Lawrence/AFP)
The communist-backed Hong Kong administration's refusal to probe police brutality against pro-democracy protesters remains the root cause of continuing violence, say a Catholic bishop and rights activists.
In fresh violence on May 10, police arrested some 200 pro-democracy protesters following clashes in at least seven malls in the city-state.
Thousands of young people gathered to resume the pro-democracy demonstrations that were restrained because of the Covid-19 pandemic in the past few months.Police sprayed pepper powder to disperse crowds of mostly young people who shouted slogans demanding independence for the semi-autonomous territory under Chinese administration and the resignation of Carrie Lam, its Beijing-backed chief executive.
"If the fundamental problem is not solved, people will just continue to come out and protest," said Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing of Hong Kong, adding that the administration has ignored the demand to appoint a committee to probe police violence against protesters.
Rights activists say that since the pro-democracy movement began in June last year, police have used brutal force to suppress it, resulting in the death of at least two protesters and many arrests.
The protests began to oppose a now-scrapped bill that would have allowed Hong Kong people arrested for certain crimes to be extradited to mainland China for trial. The demonstrations soon took the shape of a pro-democracy movement, but the pandemic situation has restricted it for the past three months.
As the pandemic subsided in Hong Kong, large groups came out to shopping malls and public places to celebrate Mother's Day on May 10.
In the afternoon police announced inside malls that government regulations prohibit crowds in public places. They also urged people to keep a social distance. Riot police then arrived and began to disperse protesters forcibly.
Bishop Ha said the debate over whether the police were violent or whether people should have violated the government order was secondary.
"The deeper issue is this: the public needs to know how and when the government plans to set up an independent commission of inquiry" into alleged police brutality against protesters. "It is the most important issue," he said.Jackie Hung, project officer of the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong Diocese, said the inquiry is only one of five demands.
A demand for withdrawal of the extradition bill was fulfilled when Carrie Lam agreed to it last September. But protesters insist on the government meeting their other four demands — an inquiry into police brutality, the release of all arrested protesters, an end to describing protests as "riots" and the resignation of Carrie Lam and introduction of universal suffrage for electing Hong Kong's Legislative Council and chief executive.
"The government didn't respond to the five demands. I think it's acceptable if some of them gather and sing in the mall. They expressed their demands in a peaceful manner," Hung said.
She said both people and police are victims of the government. "The government allows police to bully the citizens, and the citizens hate them in return," she said.
Monica, a Catholic, said she and er family went out to celebrate Mother's Day but saw riot police waiting for action in full armor. She suspected trouble and left the area.
May, another parishioner in Hong Kong, said she was not part of any protest but was returning from Harbour City when two police officers stared at her. "The riot police stared at people as they passed by without any kindness."
The relationship between the police and the public in Hong Kong has completely "broken down because the police have no respect for the public, and the public will not feel good about police," she said.