Increased repression in Hong Kong: now is the time to act!

After another weekend of escalating police violence in Hong Kong, the ITUC has been asked to mobilise the global trade union movement in solidarity with trade union demands for freedom of assembly and free speech; the release of arrested protestors and an independent inquiry into human rights abuses by police.

Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions general secretary Lee Cheuk Yan has sent this message to the ITUC:
“We are now in a very critical situation. We call for urgent intervention from the international community to condemn police violence and the Hong Kong Government and to stop violations of basic human rights and release the arrested protesters. The government should conduct an independent, credible investigation accepted by the community for the protests that broke out since June as a first step to assure the people of Hong Kong that the Hong Kong Government is willing to look into police violence and violations of human rights.”

The HKCTU has reiterated its 5 demands: permanent withdrawal of the extradition law; release of the arrested protesters without charge; withdrawal by the authorities of their characterisation of the 12 June protests as “riots”; an independent investigation into police violence and abuse of power; and implementation of universal suffrage.

Police brutality has escalated and the right to freedom of assembly has been seriously infringed. This is in breach of ICCPR to which Hong Kong is a signatory party, and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Forces and Forearms by Law Enforcement Officers. Excessive force has been deployed against peaceful protesters with more than 500 youth and students taking part in peaceful rallies – as well as some bystanders - arrested since June with the youngest one being 13 years old. Using a fabricated definition of rioting, they could be charged and face 5-14 years of imprisonment.

This weekend, police stormed into two metro stations and shot tear gas, rubber bullets at close range against young people coming out or on the escalators. Pepper spray, more than 1000 tear gas rounds – some of them past their expiry date making them doubly dangerous - and 500 rubber bullets as well as sponge bullets have been fired by the police, often at short range at head height. Two protesters have been injured seriously in the eyes due to short range shots by the police and may not recover their sight. And this weekend, a young female protester was blinded when she was shot with tear gas in the right eye.

There is a shocking pattern of non-intervention from police which allowed 800 gangsters to storm into the train station to attack protesters in Yuen Long on 21 July, and there have been similar reports on 11 August in North Point and Yuen Long. Reports suggest that the police are also acting as agents provocateurs, dressing as protesters and urging them to violence. The Hong Kong government has yet to explain why the police, riot squads are carrying out actions without showing warrants or wearing any ID number on their uniforms.

The freedom of the press has also been compromised: the Hong Kong Federation of Journalists have reported on hundreds of complaints of police violence used against them in an attempt to obstruct their work.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC, said: “the ever-escalating police violence shows a government out of control and uninterested in engaging with its people except by force. There must now be international pressure for cessation of direct attacks on the people of Hong Kong, many of them trade unionists. We are calling on trade unionists worldwide to put pressure on their local Chinese embassies, and we will be working with global union federations to counter the pressure on Hong Kong employers like Cathay Pacific who have been pressurized by the Chinese government to discipline staff exercising their fundamental human right to protest. We stand side by side with our brave sisters and brothers in Hong Kong in demanding an end to the violence and universal suffrage in Hong Kong.”