Myanmar reps co-sign letter urging Hong Kong leader to listen to citizens’ demands

05 January 2020
Myanmar reps co-sign letter urging Hong Kong leader to listen to citizens’ demands
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo speaks during the Advisory Forum on National Reconciliation and Peace in Myanmar at Thingaha Hotel in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, 07 May 2019. Photo: EPA

Dignitaries from Myanmar have joined politicians and social leaders from 17 countries in penning an open letter to the city leader in Hong Kong calling for an investigation into alleged police misconduct in Hong Kong.  

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, President of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences and Archbishop of Yangon, U Kyaw Min San, Member of the Bago Regional Parliament and former legal adviser to the International Commission of Jurists Office, and Debbie Stothard, Coordinator/Founder, Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN), addressed their concern with the other 37 signatories, including those from Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, Lithuania, the US, about the escalating police brutality in Hong Kong in their open letter to Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the city leader in Hong Kong. 

They wrote that they were horrified to see the reports of Hong Kong police firing tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets on peaceful protestors during the Christmas holiday.

They also urged Carrie Lam to listen to the people’s demands, including setting up an independent inquiry team to investigate police misconduct during the pro-democracy protests, considering political reform and releasing peaceful protestors who were arrested or detained unjustly during the protests.

The Hong Kong government released a statement on January 1 and refuted the “unfounded, misguided” claims made by the signatories in the open letter.

The Hong Kong government spokesman said that Hong Kong Police “acted with restraint and the minimum force necessary to restore law and order” and the police actions were “consistent with international human rights norms and standards.”

The spokesman said that no one had the right to “claim that protesters have been unjustly detained”.

The spokesman also rejected the suggestion of an international independent inquiry mechanism and regarded this as foreign interference in Hong Kong’s affairs.

The spokesman, in addition, criticized the West for “painting a negative picture of the HKSAR Government’s action”. 

Despite the jointly-signed open letter to Carrie Lam, the police brutality still went on in Hong Kong during the new year’s protest, with tear gas, pepper spray fired at protestors and the deployment of water cannon.

About 400 protestors were detained or arrested on the first day of 2020, according to the Hong Kong local news. 

About 1.03 million people, estimated by Civil Human Rights Front, the protest organizers, marched on the street to restate their “Five Demands, Not One Less” to the Hong Kong government on the first day of 2020.

Before the rally came to an end, police already fired tear gas and pepper spray on the crowd in Wan Chai in response to the vandalization of HSBC branches, according to SCMP.

A press release from Civil Human Rights Front accused the Hong Kong Police of putting a halt to the protest and disregarding citizens’ safety by not giving enough time for peaceful protestors to disperse or helping direct the crowd to leave safely and efficiently.

However, the statement released by Hong Kong Police on Facebook page stated that “the organizer agreed to prematurely conclude the public meeting in the Victoria Park, and the public procession between Victoria Park and Charter Road in the interest of public safety and public order.”

According to the Hong Kong local news, after the march was called-off, some protestors started to build roadblocks in the evening. Riot police and water cannons were deployed to disperse the crowd and make arrests. 

SCMP quoted the police and said that the arrests made on the first day of 2020 was one of the biggest mass arrests in a day.

The series of pro-democracy protests were triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill to China, which would enable Hong Kong to transfer fugitives for Taiwan, Macau and China, which are not included in accordance with the existing law.

On June 9, a million of Hong Kong citizens, estimated by the protest organizer, marched on the street to express their opposition to the bill. However, Hong Kong government insisted to carry on the second reading of the bill at the Legislative Council on June 12.

The very first confrontation between the protestors and police sparked on June 12, when thousands of protestors surrounded the Legislative Council in order to stop the second reading of the bill from taking place.

Tear gas, batons and pepper spray were used by the police to disperse the protestors, who were throwing bottles, umbrellas and bricks at police officers, according to the local news.

On June 12, more than two million protestors, estimated by the protest organizers, marched on the streets to demand for the withdrawal of the extradition bill and, in addition, having an independent investigation into the force used by the police. The Hong Kong government, led by Carrie Lam, did not make a direct response to the proposed demands.

After protestors stormed and vandalized the Legislative Council on July 1, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day, they proposed the “Five Demands”, adding:

  • dual universal suffrage for Chief Executive and Legislative Council;
  • amnesty for protestors who had been arrested; and
  • retracting the classification for the June 12 protest as a “riot”.

In Sept. 2019, the Hong Kong government finally agreed to meet one of the five demands and announced that they would withdraw the unpopular extradition bill. Moreover, protestors in Hong Kong were still demanding justice for the police brutality, Yuen Long incident on July 21 and Prince Edward MTR incident on August 31.

On October 1, China’s National Day, a police officer shot a protestor with live round. In the same week, the city leader, Carrie Lam, announced the enforcement of an anti-mask law, under the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, in Hong Kong. This prompted a new round of clashes in the city.

The hostile situation between the police and the protestors became more intense in November  due to the death of Chow Tsz Lok, a student from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. More protests were being held around the city and one more protestor, who was unarmed showing in different local news video footages, got shot with live round and this sparked the occupation of a university in Hong Kong.

Protestors at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) confronted with police despite the police fired more than thousands of tear gas canisters in order to disperse the crowd on campus.

The situation in PolyU was the most intense that the protestors were trapped in the campus for around two weeks. More than a thousand of protestors were later arrested by the police. For protestors who were 18 years old or older, they were arrested on suspicion of rioting, according to the police.

Protests were still going on during the Christmas holidays. Carrie Lam, the city leader wrote a post on her Facebook page to criticize protestors for “ruining the Christmas Eve celebrations”.

For the New Year’s Eve, Hong Kong citizens chanted “Ten! Nine! Literate Hong Kong! Revolution of Our Times!” for counting down to the new year. Tear gas was fired at the crowd a few minutes later after Hong Kong entered 2020.

Since June 2019, there have been around 7,000 people arrested by the Hong Kong police in the pro-democracy protests, according to Reuters.