Tuesday, July 7, 2020 | ePaper

Students under siege of Hong Kong police must be allowed to leave without being arrested

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Several protesters have been arrested while trying to run from a Hong Kong university campus surrounded by police. Around 100 people tried to leave the Polytechnic University, but were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. In the past week, the campus has turned into a battleground as long-running anti-government protests become more violent.

The violence is some of the worst seen during months of unrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. The protests started over a controversial extradition bill, and have now evolved into broader anti-government demonstrations. China has warned that "no-one should underestimate [its] will to safeguard its sovereignty and Hong Kong's stability", and its ambassador to the UK said the central government would not sit back and watch if the situation became "uncontrollable".

Hong Kong's protests started in June against plans to allow extradition to mainland China. Critics feared this could undermine judicial independence and endanger dissidents. Until 1997, Hong Kong was ruled by Britain as a colony but then returned to China. Under the "one country, two systems" arrangement, it has more autonomy than the mainland, and its people have more rights.

The bill was withdrawn in September but demonstrations continue and now demand full democracy and an inquiry into police actions. Clashes between police and activists have become increasingly violent, with police firing live bullets and protesters attacking officers and throwing petrol bombs.

It is unacceptable for the police who should act as the people's force, to act with so much cruelty and violence towards protestors who in reality wanted the legal autonomies of average Hong Kong citizens to be safeguarded. The extradition bill which triggered the first protest was introduced in April. It would have allowed for criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China under certain circumstances. Opponents said this risked exposing Hong Kongers to unfair trials and violent treatment. They also argued the bill would give China greater influence over Hong Kong and could be used to target activists and journalists.

The police of Hong Kong initially showed restraint and that was appreciated, but their latest conduct in using force against the protesters has been brutal. In particular, the show of force and indiscriminate arrest of the students under siege is certainly politically motivated. The students under siege in polytechnic university should be allowed to leave peacefully without fear of arrest.

The police must not forget that students are not protesting defying the authority and risking their lives for any personal gain or from a sense of malice. The claims of the students are very much related to the greater interest of all, including the police -- that's the issue being Hong Kong's style of governance.

This mindset of thinking of the protesters as criminals should not be acceptable to free people of Hong Kong. The protesters only want -- what they think is -- their natural right, the promise given by China that the citizens of Hong Kong will be immune to Chinese Law upto 2047.

The situation would not go out of control if Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam tried her best to cool down the protesters after riots started in the first place.

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