Nearly a third of anti-government protesters arrested over four months of civil unrest in Hong Kong were aged under 18, the city’s No 2 official revealed on Thursday, describing the worrying trend as “shocking” and “heartbreaking”.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung also insisted the government was not trying to wipe out protests altogether with its controversial anti-mask law, and no further measures were forthcoming in Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s policy address next Wednesday.
“We have no further intention, particularly in the context of the policy address, of devising new measures to clamp down on protests,” he said.
“We never clamp down on protests. We only clamp down on violence. Protest is allowed if it’s legal, if it’s lawful, if it’s peaceful … it’s part of our core values.”
Among the 2,379 arrested so far since the protests were sparked in June by the government’s now-withdrawn extradition bill, 750 were aged below 18 years, and 104 of them were under 16, accounting for about 4.4 per cent.
“These numbers are shocking and heartbreaking,” Cheung said.
“I appeal to parents, teachers, and friends from various sectors in society to ask young people not to join any illegal or violent acts and stay away from police cordon lines, to avoid putting themselves in dangerous situations during police dispersal or arrest operations, or even getting injured or arrested, destroying their future
Officials also gave an account by numbers of the damage and destruction caused by radicals on the front lines of the protests, revealing they had dismantled 42km (26 miles) – about the standard distance of a marathon race – of roadside railings, dug up 2,600 square metres (28,000 square feet) of brick-paved pedestrian pavements, and smashed around a fifth of traffic lights across the city.
Rampaging mobs targeting the city’s metro system damaged or destroyed 2,400 ticketing machines and turnstiles, and smashed 900 CCTV cameras at 83 out of 94 MTR stations.
“I appeal to every one of us here to help promulgate to everyone in Hong Kong not to strike down our MTR system – it’s our system, it’s our pride and our need,” transport minister Frank Chan Fan said.
Cheung said the chief executive’s policy blueprint would focus on livelihood issues, such as housing and poverty alleviation, which had been identified as deep-seated problems causing public discontent.
Accused of further provoking protesters by banning them from wearing masks at public assemblies, he said it was too early to judge the effectiveness of the new law but stressed the importance of giving police more power to deal with lawlessness.
“It takes time for everybody to familiarise with that regulation. But I’m sure that given time, this will act as an effective deterrent to help the police in enforcement work,” he said.
Cheung also praised the performance of the city’s embattled police force.
“Police are not going it alone. The entire governing team is cooperating with one another to ensure Hong Kong will restore peace,” he said.
The anti-mask law became effective last Saturday, brought in by invoking the tough, colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance, which was last used in Hong Kong to quell the 1967 leftist riots.
A source familiar with the government’s position said wearing masks had contributed to a certain extent to people engaging in violent acts.
“The introduction of the anti-mask law alone cannot end the current mayhem but the government hopes the new legislation will nurture stronger, law-abiding consciousness,” the source said.
He also noted that a growing number of people from various quarters, including the education and social welfare sectors, were calling for an end to the violence and groups taking the law into their own hands on the streets.
“There is a glimmer of hope as more people recognise the need to come up with methods to pull out of the current impasse. There is stronger consensus than last month when the chief executive announced her plan to launch a community dialogue,” the source said.
He said the government would announce a number of new policy initiatives over the coming months.
“It may help draw public attention to these policy issues and bring society back to normal,” the source said.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong protests: students from at least two elite schools wave US and revolutionary flags on campus while others wear black for Dress Casual Day
- Hong Kong police to investigate female student’s claim of sexual assault by officers after Chinese University head grilled by hundreds of her angry peers
- Hong Kong protesters gather to mark Taiwan’s celebration of 108th anniversary of Republic of China in a show of defiance against Beijing
- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam: ‘no plans’ to bring in more laws under emergency powers, too early to judge effectiveness of mask ban
- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam may not deliver annual speech in person as violent protests put Legislative Council on high alert
This article Nearly a third of Hong Kong protesters arrested over past four months of unrest aged under 18, city’s No 2 official reveals, calling trend ‘heartbreaking’ first appeared on South China Morning Post