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Police Charge 14 in WTO Protests, 944 Released
Eleven South Koreans among those detained; Hong Kong police accused of 'inhuman treatment'
David Kootnikoff (kaspian)     Print Article 
Published 2005-12-19 22:44 (KST)   
An anti-WTO group stage a sit-in in Hong Kong, Dec. 18
©2005 AP/Yonhap
Hong Kong police have charged 14 men with unlawful assembly late Monday evening for participating in the WTO protests that shook the territory to its core over the weekend. Among those being charged are 11 South Koreans, one Japanese, one Chinese and one Taiwanese, police said in a statement. Another 944 were released.

South Korean Gov't Intervenes

Late Sunday evening, South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae Chan expressed concern for protesters instructing the Foreign Ministry to "make its best diplomatic effort for the protection and early release of our farmers."

Vice-Foreign Minister Lee Kyu Hyung arrived in Hong Kong Monday afternoon and met with officials. He reportedly apologized for the violent protests and appealed for lenience. Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang said Sunday that the detained protesters would be dealt with according to local law.

South Koreans Win Over Locals

Hong Kong police detain Korean protesters, Sunday
©2005 AP/Yonhap
In the battle for hearts and minds this past week during the WTO's MC6 conference, the South Korean farmers appear to have won the day, despite the mass arrests. Ironically, attempts by the media to stereotype and marginalize the group as "fanatics" and "criminals" have backfired as the extensive coverage served to raise the sympathies of the majority in this once agricultural/fishing community.

Rather than appearing as irresponsible rioters out to wreck havoc on Hong Kong, the farmers have impressed locals with what many described as their fortitude, discipline and dignity. The violent clashes with police that occurred on Saturday have been widely interpreted as valiant attempts to protect their livelihoods.

In the face of a globalization process that many view as lacking transparency and accountability, the South Koreans have come to represent legitimate discontent.

Throughout the week's events, the farmers have made a point of saying their quarrel is not with the police, but with the politicians behind the barricades. Most in Hong Kong understand the difference, despite criticism by some community leaders that they are naive for believing so.

Local Outrage Over Arrests

After over 1,000 demonstrators were "rounded up," in the words of police commissioner Dick Lee, and jailed, local legislator Albert Ho condemned the police for their "inhumane treatment" of the protesters.

Speaking outside Kwun Tong jail in Kowloon on Sunday, Ho said one Korean woman was reportedly subjected to a strip search. He also complained that the police refused to allow him to visit with more than three detainees, stating they were denied access to legal advice and had been sleeping in an open-air car park without warm clothing, blankets or basic amenities.

©2005 AP/Yonhap
In a press conference Monday morning, a recently released South Korean woman said through a translator that the police were denying detainees basic medical treatment and complained that adequate translation was not provided. One woman had a high fever but was not attended to, according the South Korean.

Other detainees included protesters from Taiwan, Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand. Local supporters gathered outside the prison, shaming the police for using excessive force on the detainees.

Their allegations were supported by the Asian Human Rights Commission. In a blunt statement issued Dec. 18 and titled "HONG KONG SAR: Police brutality and inhuman treatment of WTO protestors," the commission condemned the actions of the Hong Kong police:
The brutality and inhuman treatment of the protestors against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by the Hong Kong police comes as a shock and must immediately be stopped...Despite the protesters being unarmed, the Hong Kong police commissioner declared the peaceful demonstration as a violent riot against Hong Kong law and pledged to take serious action against the protesters. At about 4am on December 18 about 500-600 protestors, mostly South Korean, were arrested and detained in various police stations..."
Media Response

The general tone in the local media was one of disdain for the protesters and support for the police. Some reports today praised the restraint the police demonstrated while being under the attack of violent protesters.

Other reports bordered on the extreme, courting racism by singling out the "mass of Koreans" in a desperate attempt to hold the group responsible for the all the violence that transpired during the WTO conference.

Related Articles
WTO Kicks Off in Hong Kong
Korean Protests Take Center Stage at WTO
WTO Protesters Stage Hunger Strike

©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David Kootnikoff

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