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WTO Protesters Stage Hunger Strike
Celebrities, politicians among supporters appealing for immediate release of protesters
David Kootnikoff (kaspian)     Print Article 
Published 2006-01-09 11:43 (KST)   
South Korean Ihm Dae Hyeok finishes a speech thanking Hong Kong citizens for their support on day 3 of their hunger strike, Jan. 7.
©2006 D. Kootnikoff
On Jan. 8 the streets of Hong Kong were ringing once again with anti-WTO chants as hundreds of people marched for all charges to be dropped against the 14 protesters --11 Koreans and three from Japan, Taiwan and China -- who were charged in the aftermath of the World Trade Organization conference held here last month.

Organizer and Hong People's Alliance Chairperson Elizabeth Tang called on the police to "immediately set the protesters free and let them return home."

South Korean politician Kwon Young Ghil and family members flew into Hong Kong over the weekend to support the protesters, who are scheduled to stand trial Jan. 11. Star celebrities Lee Young Ae, Ahn Sung Ki, and Lee Byung Hun also sent a letter to the Hong Kong government to appeal for their release.

WTO Protesters Stage Hunger Strike

The demonstration came as the protesters have been enduring a hunger strike from Jan. 5 near the city's Star Ferry terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui during the coldest winter nights of the season when temperatures dipped below 10 degrees Celsius.

Expression of support
©2006 D. Kootnikoff
On Jan. 7, the third day of their hunger strike, Yim De Hyuk from the Korean Federation of Trade Unions said their "determination was getting stronger and stronger" and thanked the citizens of Hong Kong for their "overwhelming support." He said all the protesters were in good health, although some were showing early signs of flu.

The hunger strikers are among the 14 of over 1000 arrested who were charged with unlawful assembly in the immediate aftermath of the WTO conference.

Police Admit Mistakes

Responding to mounting pressure, Hong Kong Police Chief Dick Lee said on Jan. 5 that some officers made "minor mistakes and that is why we are conducting a review" into police conduct. The mistakes admitted to so far involve delays in translation services.

According to Dr. Dae Oup Chang of the Asia Monitor Resource Centre, this caused significant distress and resulted in police using inappropriate force when protesters failed to understand police orders while being detained.

Lee's admission was followed by the sudden transfer of Xavier Tang, a top police commander during the WTO conference, from his post. On Jan. 8, Hong Kong English newspaper The South China Morning Post reported that a reason for Tang's transfer was his responsibility for the police being ill-prepared on Dec.17, the night the protesters were arrested, as was also previously noted by OhmyNews International.

Protesters in jail (Photo courtesy of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions)
©2006 Y.H. Lam
These surprising developments came after allegations were confirmed that the police used beanbag rounds against protesters on the same night. Initially, the police refused to confirm or deny reports until mounting photographic evidence and corroborated reports by eyewitnesses on the scene made further evasions impossible.

Beanbag rounds can be lethal if not used with caution and have caused fatalities.

On Dec. 29, police senior superintendent Jacob Cheung admitted officers had fired six rounds of a beanbag-type "super sock" cartridge filled with metal pellets at the protestors.

Case Against Protesters Questionable

The case originally went before a judge on Dec. 30, but the prosecution was granted an extension to Jan. 11 after police claimed they needed more time to review the evidence. Dr. Chang said this indicates the case is a weak one and that the admission by the police chief of mistakes was paving the way for the eventual dismissal of charges.

Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions General Secretary and Legislator Lee Cheuk Yan said the arrests were "very selective" with the police singling out leaders who were not guilty of any violent crimes. Lee added, "the police sealed off possibilities for the farmers to peacefully demonstrate and they were provoked." He also agreed the case against the protesters was "weak."

According to Hong Kong resident Litsing Pang, an eyewitness on the frontlines of the clashes between the police and protesters Dec. 17, the police provoked the protesters and then overreacted with water cannons and tear gas.

"I was holding a banner and a police officer grabbed it from my hands and threw it on the ground. I wasn't doing anything," Pang said.

Pang's account has been corroborated by numerous eyewitnesses, including this reporter.

Amnesty International "Very Concerned"

Wu Ho Tong from Amnesty International Hong Kong confirmed that they are "very concerned" about the alleged maltreatment of protesters, saying, "an independent Legco investigation is necessary," adding that a police inquiry was not enough.

He stated further that the use of the Public Order Ordinance to justify the arrests of over 1000 people during the WTO protests, most of who were not engaged in any violent acts, was a threat to Hong Kong's freedom of expression.

Wu confirmed that Amnesty was working with Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, the Asian Human Rights Commission, and the Hong Kong People's Alliance to put the police conduct on the agenda of the United Nation's review of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in Hong Kong due to take place in New York in late March 2006.

Related Articles
WTO Kicks Off in Hong Kong
Korean Protests Take Center Stage at WTO
Police Charge 14 in WTO Protests, 944 Released

©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David Kootnikoff

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