Monday, October 21

Massive turnout Sunday, Kowloon Mosque fallout, and 7/21 Anniversary

There was a surprisingly large turnout on Sunday, especially in contrast to protests on Sunday, October 13th. CHRF estimated more than 300,000 turned out in Tsim Tsa Shui for a protest, specifically targetting the mask ban. The bloody attack on Jimmy Sham on Friday undoubtedly contributed to the turnout. The 3-month anniversary of the July 21st triad attack at the Yuen Long MTR also contributed to turnout both yesterday and for protests planned tonight. RTHK's widely praised investigation into what happened that night is now subtitled on YouTube. Today was otherwise dominated by fallout over what happened at the Kowloon Mosque.

Soft Curfew Watch

It was announced yesterday that all MTR service would end at 10 pm on Monday, but 2 pm at Yuen Long. The rationale was pre-emptive damage control, which is valid, and 'ongoing repairs,' which is likely untrue.

Note: It's worth taking a step back to remember that one of the primary complaints about MTR on July 21st was that they didn't close the station, have the next trains skip it, or even warn passengers that thugs were waiting for them at the station.

What Happened at the Kowloon Mosque?

Background Context: The first reports of Jimmy Sham’s assault claimed that 3-5 South Asian men were the attackers [Triads hiring South Asian men for this kind of thing is so prevalent here that it features in the plot of Ten Years first mini-film]. With vigilantism on the rise, there were concerns that some people might attack the community. The protest on Sunday started with a very ‘kumbaya’ vibe embracing Hong Kong’s diversity. Businesses and NGOs from Chungking Mansions opened their doors and passed out water bottles while ethnic minority social workers and activists spoke to the crowd.

This was the scene before the water cannon truck came through:

Note: I don’t think either the mosque or South Asian community was under a ‘real’ threat. Lau says as much in the next tweet. The problem, though, is that this is a leaderless movement, some people are doing stupid things, and there’s a lot of undercover police mixing in the crowds.

What Happened: Both Carrie Lam and Police Commissioner Stephen Lo visited the Kowloon Mosque and Islamic Culture Centre today to apologize for the water cannon truck spraying the front entrance with water containing both a persistent blue dye agent and capsicum. HKPF maintains the mosque wasn't targetted and that there were 'rioters' (or routers) in front and on the sidewalks. Eyewitness accounts and several videos all show the same thing, though:

  • As we've seen multiple times now, protesters get away from the water cannon when it's moving. Nearly all the protesters HKPF were trying to push out of TST on Nathan Road were in Yau Ma Tei when the incident happened.

  • Only journalists in high-viz press vests and a handful of people holding signs were in front of the mosque when the water cannon rolled up.

  • The water cannon truck stopped for several seconds in front of the mosque before spraying it.

The reaction from a Muslim community leader immediately after the incident was vitriolic, claiming it was “an attack against us.” Neighbors and protesters came out to try to clean the blue stains out once the police left. Police arrived roughly five hours later for a photo op cleaning up for about five minutes.

Sunday’s Protest (October 20th)

See above for a general description of what was happening before the police came out.

  • A crowd gathered in public space near the Science Museum until sheer numbers pushed them onto Nathan Road. By around 3 p.m., it turned into a march to Sham Shui Po. While those people likely took the Star Ferry from Hong Kong Island, this was another example of “blossom everywhere,” formerly called “district guerilla resistance.” With the MTR increasingly shut down near protest sites, people come and join in their neighborhoods. A large crowd gathered in Mong Kok by around 3 pm.

    • CHRF claims that 350k people showed up. I’ve long been skeptical of their crowd size estimates, but this was a huge crowd. Easily >100k.

    • Protests stretched nearly 6km, from Yau Ma Tei to Lai Chi Kok by the evening, and spread out wide (east-west) over several blocks along the Tsuen Wan Line that runs north-south through the center of Kowloon.

  • The clearance operation started just after 3 pm and lasted for nearly five hours before HKPF essentially gave up.

    • HKPF came out to wave blue flags warning of illegal assembly before 1 pm.

    • The water cannon truck traveled through major roads like Nathan Road, spraying passerby’s (including children). The truck was essentially ‘misting’ entire neighborhoods with capsicum and blue dye at one point.

    • Once again, we see neighborhood residents and shops opening their doors when protesters got cornered by HKPF.

    • Compared to last week’s 201 arrests, only 68 were arrested on Sunday.

  • Sunday also saw some of the most brazen attacks on journalists that I’ve witnessed so far.

    • Since June, journalists - particularly photojournalists - routinely get hit with ‘less lethal’ projectiles because of their proximity to frontlines. Not only are there are fewer frontlines now, but journalists also keep more distance since live ammo has been introduced.

    • The water cannon truck seemed to target journalists every time it passed by. They were standing with other journalists, with no other protesters nearby, in every single example. Some were sprayed multiple times.

    • Once again, they had a CS grenade thrown at them. Cops were running out of an MTR exit last time this happened. There was no confusion this time, and it detonated over the head one reporter.

  • There was a notable shift in ‘refurbishment’ targets Sunday.

    • There have been a color-coded ‘rules of engagement’ regarding political vandalism, which has been followed more than you might expect until this weekend. Only triad dens, Chinese state-owned enterprises, and MTR made the blacklist of companies that can be targetted for ‘refurbishment.’ Below that level is the Red List of companies whose owners denounce ‘rioters’ which are only supposed to receive ‘decorations’ (flyers & grafitti). That got thrown out the window on Sunday.

    • While Xiaomi has been a target before, their store in Mong Kok was torched. The damage was severe. That the people who did that also detained a man trying to steal phones before the fire is one of many the reasons I’m hesitant to call these riots. As I commented today, “Xiaomi getting targeted is a mix of generic anti-China sentiment and a product of a wider moral panic about Chinese tech companies.”

    • There has been a post-doc justification of this and other new targets (Beijing Tong TCM and Liaison Office owned bookshops), suggesting we should expect more of this going forward.