A series of attacks on anti-extradition protesters in Hong Kong has raised concerns that non-violent protesters are being targeted by pro-Beijing groups as they continue to demand the withdrawal of amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance that would allow the rendition of alleged criminal suspects to mainland China.
A 46-year-old man was arrested on Thursday after he allegedly attacked two people defending a wall of anti-extradition sticky notes and posters in Kowloon Bay, one of many "Lennon" protest walls springing up around the city in recent days.
Video of the encounter posted to social media showed an older man ripping down part of the Lennon Wall, yelling obscenities at a younger man in a blue shirt, and hitting him repeatedly, knocking him down at one point with a blow to the head.
Social media reports said the younger man was a trained martial artist who was deliberately not fighting back for fear of discrediting the anti-extradition movement.
Several people were still standing guard by the Lennon Wall in Kowloon Bay on Thursday.
A student who gave only her surname Tse said she had been present during the standoff.
"The young man in the blue shirt was trying to protect our Lennon Wall, so that's why he kept standing in front of that man," Tse said.
"He didn't want [the man] to leave because once he had hit someone, we called the police, but after that I saw him continue to aim blows at the guy in the blue shirt."
"I was very angry because he kept hitting him, but we couldn't stop him. We were all scared and we didn't really know what to do," she said.
A passerby surnamed Chan said people just want to express their views to the government using peaceful means, but were being harassed by "certain people."
Voices of the people
Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung said the Lennon Walls are a peaceful form of protest aimed at the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam, who has sought dialogue with protesters on the extradition bill but hasn't met their demands for total withdrawal of the amendments, an amnesty for arrested protesters, a public inquiry into police violence, and the dropping of descriptions of June 12 protests as "rioting."
"If Carrie Lam really wants to listen to people from all walks of life, all she needs to do, if she has the guts, is to go with her accountability team to all of the Lennon Walls in all of the districts," Yeung said. "In just a short time, she will have heard the voices of the people."
"This would be the best possible method if she wants to understand Hong Kong public opinion in 2019," he said.
While some of those publicly tearing down the Lennon Wall stickers have identified themselves as being pro-police, others have been more anonymous. They have been vocally critical of the largely peaceful anti-extradition movement, however.
Two retired police officers were arrested following a standoff at Yau Tong MTR station, when around 200 unidentified people surrounded and yelled verbal abuse at a group of young people, quickly drawing a large crowd of local residents in support of the young people. One was later released.
In a district with a large concentration of police residential quarters, the crowd appeared anxious in video footage posted to social media, at one point calling for journalists to come and train their cameras on the standoff, for fear that attackers wouldn't be arrested.
Police clad in riot gear eventually showed up to disperse the crowd, raising a warning flag threatening the use of force. The group of some 200 pro-Beijing protesters then dispersed, and local people rebuilt the parts of the Lennon Wall that had been torn down.
Democratic lawmaker Claudia Mo, who leads the pan-democratic camp in Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo), said there are suspicions that the attacks on young people and the targeting of the Lennon Walls are the acts of organized provocateurs.
"Everyone understands that these Lennon Walls springing up in these communities are an extremely civilized form of expression," Mo said.
"Here in Hong Kong, we face a very serious and deep-seated political crisis, which is that Carrie Lam has totally refused to accede to the demands of the people."
"For young people, especially students, to use such civilized and peaceful means to express their demands is something that would be tolerated in any civilized society," she said.
"But now we are seeing the spread of these Cultural Revolution-style struggle sessions that pit groups of people against each other."
"This is intolerable," Mo said.
Threat to Hong Kong's status
The amendments are widely seen as a threat to Hong Kong's way of life, which was supposed to have been protected by the "one country, two systems" framework under which the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.
If they become law, the city could lose its status as a separate legal jurisdiction and trading entity, while journalists, visitors, rights activists, dissidents, democratic politicians, and members of the business community could be targeted for words and actions deemed illegal by Chinese officials, and extradited to face trial in Chinese courts, which are directly controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Students, march organizers, and pro-democracy lawmakers have all rejected Lam's attempt at initiating discussions on Tuesday, demanding that she first declare an amnesty for all those arrested in connection with recent protests, drop allegations of "rioting" used by police and some officials, and formally withdraw the planned amendments before the end of the current LegCo term in 2020, rather than just claiming that they will automatically lapse at that time.
Protesters also want an independent public inquiry into police use of tear gas, rubber and textile bullets, pepper spray, and batons during the anti-extradition campaign, especially during protests on June 12.
Lam has said calls for an amnesty for those arrested wae "not acceptable," because the decision whether or not to prosecute should be taken independently of political considerations.
Instead of an independent inquiry, she added, a "fact-finding study" would be carried out by the city's police complaints body, which analysts say has no investigatory powers and has to rely on the police investigating themselves.
Lam has also insisted that a minority had engaged in "violent acts," in an apparent reference to protesters smashing their way into LegCo and spray-painting surveillance cameras and anti extradition graffiti on government property, as opposed to attacks on people.
The Global Times tabloid, sister paper to ruling Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, blamed "foreign forces" for the failure of Hong Kong's young people to accept a program of "patriotic education" rejected by mass protests in the city in 2009, in an article published on Wednesday.
"Foreign forces are deeply involved and even dominate the media and education in Hong Kong, and they select negative information and news about the mainland to mislead the Hong Kong public and students," the paper said.
In a separate article, the paper hit out at Japan's Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., after it pulled advertising for its sports drink Pocari Sweat from Hong Kong's TVB terrestrial channel, saying its coverage of the recent protests had shown a strong pro-police bias.
"Chinese analysts said the Japanese company would likely face tough sanctions in the mainland for adopting a wrong stance," the article said.
Reported by Lee Wang-yam for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Lu Xi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.