- Hundreds of protesters are trapped at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University as police surround the campus following a series of violent weekend clashes.
- Several religious leaders and lawmakers fear Hong Kong may soon see an incident similar to 1989’s Tiananmen Square massacre as they wait to see if mainland China will order the widespread use of live rounds.
- On Monday, Hong Kong’s High Court ruled the October ban of face masks unconstitutional after Chief Executive Carrie Lam enacted the ban last month so police could better identify protesters.
Students Trapped on University Campus
Hundreds of protesters remain trapped on Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University Monday after a violent weekend of police clashes that resulted in police completely surrounding the campus.
Earlier in the day, protesters attempted a mass exodus to flee the university, but they were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. One reporter described the situation as no less than 10 minutes of nonstop tear gas.
Some protesters were arrested in the clash, but many were also reportedly forced back onto campus.
The clash occurred after protesters ignored riot police’s warnings to leave unarmed at an approved exit zone. Many attendees, however, feared they would be arrested if they used that exit.
Clashes like this over the weekend led to dozens being admitted to the hospital, with four in serious condition.
Students Protest at PolyU
The situation began last week when students began the protest at PolyU. Those protests originally started peacefully, but many protesters prepared for violence by making Molotov cocktails.
Those students then reportedly practiced by throwing them in the school’s empty pool. Other students reportedly practiced using catapult-style slingshots and bows and arrows.
On Saturday, clashes erupted as police started advancing on PolyU. In a scene that has become increasingly common over the last few months, riot police fired tear gas and water cannons while protesters shielded themselves with umbrellas and boards. Those protesters then hurled bricks and Molotov cocktails in retaliation.
Bricks continued to fly well into Sunday morning when protesters flung them at residents who were trying to clear a road.
Also Sunday morning, there were some reports of Chinese soldiers in riot gear monitoring the situation from the base of the university. On Saturday, the Chinese government deployed soldiers into the territory for the first time in the protests nearly six-month history, though that deployment was mostly part of an effort to clean up and clear streets.
Sunday evening, protesters fired catapults and bows and arrows from rooftops, with one arrow reportedly striking an officer in the calf. Later, protesters set fire to a bridge that connects the university to a train station.
A huge fire burning on the bridge that connects #PolyU to Hung Hom MTR station. The smoke is being blown by the wind into campus and protesters are retreating, carrying along their supplies. pic.twitter.com/so7z3B0JJe— Rachel Cheung (@rachel_cheung1) November 17, 2019
Into the night, PolyU administrators asked protesters to end the violence and leave the campus.
“The university is gravely concerned that the spiraling radical illicit activities will cause not only a tremendous safety threat on campus, but also class suspension over an indefinite period of time,” a university statement reads.
Outside the campus, Hong Kong legislator Ted Hui tried to negotiate with riot police by trying to ask police to allow protesters on campus to leave. Police denied the request and Hui was later pepper-sprayed.
Protesters Set Fire to Armored Vehicle and Ask for Support
The same night, police attempted to enter the campus by using an armored vehicle. That vehicle charged a barricade protesters had set up on a bridge, but it reversed course as protesters set it on fire using Molotov cocktails.
Students then rushed another armored vehicle following that clash.
#Update: I have never seen so much broken bottles from Molotov Cocktails at a protest as of now, here you see a video footage of Polytechnic University students throwing these cocktails towards riot police vehicles. #HongKong #China #PolyU pic.twitter.com/4LOWQi8zvM— Sotiri Dimpinoudis (@sotiridi) November 17, 2019
All of that happened while students airdropped messages to each other asking protesters to recruit even more protesters to then surround the police.
“The effort to surround the police at PolyU from all four corners is our final hope,” one message read.
It later seemed that message worked because five other significant protests in the city all popped up in an attempt to draw police resources away from the university. Notably, there were reports of some medical professionals being arrested, presumably by riot police.
In a video statement, police said they would use start live rounds on rioters if they continued using lethal weapons to attack officers. Police then tried to storm the campus again but protesters set the entrance on fire.
At the same time, a handful of protesters managed to escape the university on motorcycles.
Meanwhile, pro-democracy lawmakers and religious leaders on the streets urged people to rescue those inside of PolyU because they said that they were afraid the situation could turn into a new Tiananmen Square.
In 1989, the Chinese government ordered the military to use live rounds on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. While the Chinese government reported that only a few hundred died, other estimates climbed well into the thousands.
A few hours later in a video, the president of PolyU tried to de-escalate the situation, saying he had negotiated a suspension of force with the police but only if protesters left campus and turned themselves in.
“The main goal is to protect the campus and prevent people from getting arrested,” one PolyU alum said.
Before last week’s clash between riot police and protesters at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, it had been an unspoken rule that police didn’t go on college campuses. In that sense, students had been able to feel safe and to talk openly.
Face Mask Ban Overturned
Also on Monday, Hong Kong’s High Court struck down a ban that barred protesters from wearing face masks.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam enacted the ban in October in a move she had hoped would de-escalate the situation and make it easier for police to identify individuals.
In its findings, the court said the ban violated Hong Kong’s constitution, known as the Basic Law.
It also said that the ban was too vague and that it endangered the ability of the Legislative Council to make laws.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Axios) (South China Morning Post)
ByteDance Lays Off Hundreds of Workers After China’s Private Tutoring Crackdown
Major changes to the massive education industry in China have left many companies scrambling to adapt.
TikTok owner ByteDance laid off hundreds of employees Thursday in response to new Chinese regulations that prohibit private, for-profit tutoring in core curriculum subjects.
These employees worked in ByteDance’s online education businesses, such as GoGokids, which were effectively killed by the new rules. The over 300 workers have been laid off “with compensation,” although it’s unclear just how much compensation they will receive.
The entire education industry, one of the largest in China, was gutted by last month’s new rules, which not only ban private tutoring in the most important subjects but also give preferential treatment to public school students trying to enter China’s top universities.
Some firms, like the $15.5 billion startup known as Yuanfudao, had to largely shut down all marketing while figuring out what to do next. Others have had to shutter nearly all of their facilities. The only exceptions are those that offer tutoring in extra-curricular activities like music, which is still allowed.
Leveling the Playing Field
The move is supposed to help combat inequities within China between wealthier students and those who are poor or from more rural areas. Often, those with fewer resources often struggle to get into top universities because of their need to go to public schools and lack of access to increasingly costly private tutors in subjects like math, Chinese, history, science, and physics.
Those subjects are almost exclusively what Chinese universities look at when considering applicants.
It’s expected that with the ban and preferential treatment to public school students, the percentage of university applicants being accepted will lead to more low-income Chinese people having better opportunities.
Even if the long-term goals have merits, companies like ByteDance and even those outside of China are reeling in the short term.
The new rules not only target for-profit tutoring. They also prohibit most foreign investment into the Chinese education market, bar foreign curriculums, and ban most foreign teachers working in China, effectively shutting off large segments of the worldwide education industry, which catered to sending teachers to China.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (Financial Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem
The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.
Instulting the Anthem
Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.
The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.
The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.
Concerns for Freedom of Speech
The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.
They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”
Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.
This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.
Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.
See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse
The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.
Priest Sparks Outrage
Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.
Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.
To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.
Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.
“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.
“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”
In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.
Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”
Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.
Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims
Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.
According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.
Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.
The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.
While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”
With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.
The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.