Two men inside a Hong Kong university besieged by police after intense clashes have lashed out at the force, accusing it of depriving them of their right to vote in the city’s district council elections.
The duo urged police to end their siege and for Polytechnic University to take more steps to help the estimated 30 people still remaining on campus, many of whom they said were showing mental health problems and an inability to speak.
At least five left the campus on Sunday and into the early hours of Monday. Some of those still inside had reportedly resorted to self-harm.
“They are starting to feel reluctant to see others,” a 20-year-old in a mask who identified himself as Ah Cheung said, confirming previous accounts by legislators, lawyers and social workers.
“Despite their poor health, they refuse to eat. Sometimes, they can’t even say a complete sentence.”
Cheung has not left the campus since November 17, the day police surrounded the institution and barred any frontline radicals from leaving after one of the most intense and fiery battles in more than five months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
The demonstrations were triggered by opposition to a shelved extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of suspects to mainland China.
It meant Cheung, and many others, were unable to cast their votes during Sunday’s district council elections, which had attracted a record turnout for any poll in Hong Kong’s history with five hours still to go before the polls closed.
“For the dozens of us remaining here, we want to go out there and vote,” Cheung said.
Police had forbidden anyone over 18 years of age to leave without facing arrest for suspected rioting offences, a move Cheung and those who remained regarded as an abuse of process. For those under the age of 18, they could leave after having their details taken, although police reserved the right to take follow-up action.
“We have the right to vote according to Article 26 of the Basic Law,” Cheung said, referring to the city’s mini-constitution.
A student who appeared alongside Cheung and who gave his name only as Ron, said the district council elections on Sunday were important. It was a de facto referendum to gauge public sentiment after months of protests that had divided the city into a pro-democracy bloc that wants to hold the authorities accountable and government supporters who would prefer the city to return to peace, he said.
“We are angry and frustrated,” Cheung said.
The two also revealed more details about the increasing cabin fever being felt by those still on campus. They said many protesters had become reclusive and urged police to stop their “illegal detention” immediately, calling the situation “an international humanitarian crisis”.
A police spokesman said they had insisted on “flexibility” and a “peaceful solution”. They urged “rioters … to leave in a peaceful manner”.
The police siege followed tense clashes between protesters and police earlier that week at the Chinese University in Sha Tin.
The incidents turned universities into protester strongholds, with stockpiles of petrol bombs and their own kitchens, a change of tack from cat-and-mouse clashes on major roads and in shopping malls.
On Sunday, a team of two clinical psychologists from Hong Kong Red Cross took to the campus to provide support, alongside principal law lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming of the University of Hong Kong, barrister Linda Wong Shun-hung and Teddy Tang Chun-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools.
At least five left the campus on Sunday and early into Monday, with some taken away by police and others requiring immediate hospital treatment, including one brought out on a stretcher by paramedics.
A 20-year-old student who surrendered walked out with controversial businessman Lew Mon-hung, a former member of China’s top political advisory body, shortly after midnight on Sunday.
Lew, commonly referred to by his nickname “Dream Bear”, said he entered the campus as “a concerned citizen” after securing police approval. He said he was with a team, including first aid workers, looking for people to bring out, but they could only locate the third-year student.
The student was “distressed and muddled” and seemed to be a “lone wolf” who avoided others, said Lew, adding that might have worsened his emotional condition.
“He was neither confrontational nor did he have a mindset of perishing together,” Lew, once an ally of ex-Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying before the two fell out, said. “But he seemed to be extremely exhausted [when we found him].”
A tour around the campus by Post reporters on Sunday revealed an empty site with protesters barely visible, with food supplies, including biscuits, cup noodles and energy bars, still available.
Tents, mats and pillows were seen in some rooms.
At least three more left the campus overnight on Sunday.
At 11.30pm, a 23-year-old male protester agreed to end his stay on campus after many hours of encouragement from social workers and church-goers.
A teacher from PolyU said it took days of befriending him before he yielded.
He was taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, escorted by two police officers and a retired medicine professor from Chinese University.
At about 3am on Monday, two more male protesters left the campus following a lengthy campaign of persuasion by a group of volunteers, who had earned their trust over the past few days.
They came to encourage protesters to leave, especially those who had appeared self-destructive.
The pair were then taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital with their personal data recorded by police without being arrested immediately.
A volunteer said they were both students from the City University aged 21 and 22. They appeared to be mentally and physically weak.
“They were frightened [when we found them] and had signs of post-traumatic stress disorder ... and were worrying what police might do next,” the volunteer said.
“They had no strength to escape. All of them had reached their limit.”
The volunteers came to the campus on Monday to search for five more protesters who had contacted them online earlier. They were told some in the group had engaged in self-harm by cutting themselves on their arms.
Before the visit on Monday morning, the volunteers contacted about 20 protesters there but could not locate them.
The departed City University students had told them they had seen about 10 other protesters on campus.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong protests: acting president of student union among those who leave as Polytechnic University siege peters out
- Hong Kong protests: police chief says no deadline for resolving Polytechnic University crisis