更多關於示威的二三事 | More protest encounters
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 5:10pm on 20th January 2020
One of a series of photographs of the siege between protesters and police, Polytechnic University of Hong Kong, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, 17 November 2019. Printed in the zine Pillow Hands, Heavy Feet – which can be bought at Booked: Hong Kong art book fair (Photo: John Batten).
(Please scroll down for English version)
從今天起至本周末，即1月17-19日，大館當代美術館將舉行一年一度的《BOOKED: 香港藝術書展》，參展單位分別來自本地、亞洲和國際，將展出（和出售）各種藝術書籍、藝術家製作的書籍和雜誌。同場還會舉辦講座、對話和展出特別展品，包括各國社會運動示威的雜誌。我最近便向張伊婷和曾智愛怡編輯的《Pillow Hands, Heavy Feet》提供稿和照片。該份雜誌的主題是「在幽默與憂傷、憤怒和異化之間擺動──廿三位供稿人……反思現時社會運動中的藝術策略，以及我們回應或處理集體改變的方法。」
More protest encounters
by John Batten
Starting today and continuing over the weekend (17-19 January) is Booked – the yearly art book fair held at Tai Kwun Contemporary. The fair will have exhibitors from Hong Kong, Asia and further afield showing (and selling) a variety of art books, artist-made books and zines. Complementing the fair will be talks, conversations and special displays, including of social protest zines from around the world. I recently contributed photographs and writing to Pillow Hands, Heavy Feet, edited by Ysabelle Cheung (張伊婷) and Eunice Tsang (曾智愛怡), a zine “oscillating between humour and grief, rage and alienation - the 23 contributors…reflect on the artistic strategies of the current social movement and the ways in which we respond to or process collective change.”
My small written contribution is as follows:
I visited the Polytechnic University on 15 November and 17 November. On the night of 16 November, police and protesters began an intense combative stand-off at the main campus entrance, at the intersection of Austin Road and Chatham Road South - a normally busy crossroad shared with the Hong Kong Museum of History, St Mary''s Canossian College and the People’s Liberation Army Gun Club Hill Barracks.
Unlike previous protester/police encounters, protest barricades and police lines became fixed at that intersection for many days. From across the street police fired round after round of tear gas, supported by two water cannon trucks (or in the local Cantonese vernacular, these trucks are disparagingly referred to as ''police wives'') firing multiple streams of toxic water, including a distinctive blue-dye formula. The stand-off grew into a full-blown siege with police advancing and retreating in battle-like formations, and protesters defending their positions with Molotov cocktails and stones, often catapulted with makeshift slingshots. The protesters were initially in superior positions - controlling an advantageous position overlooking the campus entrance and the road intersection, as well as controlling the elevated pedestrian overpasses linking the university to the MTR East Rail line. The siege ended quickly once police sealed the campus exits on 17 November - during the following week protesters voluntarily left the campus (making themselves vulnerable to arrest) or escaped.
These photographs document one aspect of the siege, the water-based battle between protesters and police. In a distinctive addition to their familiar black protest attire, protesters wear plastic raincoats, to protect themselves from the toxic water fired by the police water cannon trucks. Protesters covered with the toxic water experienced burning irritations to the skin and eyes. Medical volunteers flushed victims with saline solution and collected samples of the toxic water for analysis as the government stated that the chemical content of the tear gas and blue-dyed water could not be revealed due to "police operational reasons."
The photograph below is one of many depicting the ‘water siege’ between protesters and police at the PolyU. I eventually left PolyU just before midnight on 17 January after the police had sealed the exits, using my press pass to leave. I intended to return to my home in Sheung Wan, but all nearby public transport had been suspended, so I started walking to the Western harbour tunnel. The streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, Jordan and Yau Ma Tei were a battle-zone as young people throughout the city arrived to help “save PolyU.” I was in no hurry to get home, so I continued photographing and witnessing the street action. I saw many disturbing incidents that day and night* and then I encountered one of my own.
A young woman approached me as I walked along Kimberley Road, showed me her phone and asked if I could go to Austin Road, where the police were attempting to enter and arrest protesters in a restaurant. The press is often asked by protesters to witness police actions and I was the only member of the press in the area. I quickly agreed to see what was happening, but after walking a further 50 metres alone, I was dazzled by bright lights pointed at me. I hovered between two cars and then went on to the footpath and was quickly surrounded by five black-clad policemen. One was very aggressive, aiming his baton at my head, repeatedly yelling “Hong Kong ID card, Hong Kong ID card!” I immediately pulled down my (paper) tear-gas mask and put my hands in the air, saying that my ID card was in my backpack and I would take it off to retrieve it (‘resisting police’ can be loosely interpreted in these situations, so unexplained movements is not advised). Seconds later, while still yelling “Hong Kong ID card”, he suddenly grabbed my helmet and violently pulled it back from off my head. Luckily, the clasp under my chin was loose, so my head was not pulled back as well. That could have caused a serious injury. I think the policeman, on seeing my white hair (e.g. I wasn’t young), was momentarily surprised. His calmer police colleague then intervened and looked at the press ID around my neck. This encounter lasted only a few minutes and further violence and/or arrest went through my head, but I was strangely calm and accepting. Then, it ended as suddenly as it started: I was aggressively waved away.
Immediately, I met four other journalists, who I joined. We followed the same policemen, who continuously turned to shine bright torches at and around us, scared that protesters might emerge to attack. The tension on the streets was awful: young police and young protesters motivated by convoluted ideas of right and wrong, attack and defend, and the sad rot of mutual mistrust.
Then, blocked from walking further along Kimberley Road, we climbed back-alley stairways to the Tsim Sha Tsui police station, where a further battle between Molotov cocktail-throwing protesters and rubber bullet-firing police ensued; another encounter to be witnessed.
*See, for example, my article in Ming Pao Weekly, 5 December 2019
This article was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly on 16 January 2020. Translated into Chinese by Aulina Chan.