Protesters denounce Police Violence
For immediate release
Released by Asian Migrant Centre (AMC), Joint Committee for Migrant Workers in Korea (JCMK) and Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA)
20th December 2005
Anti-WTO activists present at the December 17 standoff with the Hong Kong police outside the HKCEC denounce the heavy-handed tactics used to disperse an assembly of unarmed protesters.
"The December 17 protest has been publicized as a 'riot', when in fact most protesters were standing by, chanting, singing protest songs, and helping those injured," states Fr. Peter O'Neil of the Hope Workers Center in Taiwan, who was who was protesting as part of a group of 70 migrant workers activist. "The protest caused no disorder to the general public; no shops or private property were damaged. Only limited forceful confrontation occurred at police lines."
Though organizers and HK police had agreed on the route to be taken to the HKCEC, police blocked their passage at 5pm. In response, "a number of protestors tried to bypass police lines, and they were using their bodies to push against the riot shields," said another protester Christina DeFalco. "The police responded with pepper spray, spraying directly into the eyes of protesters, and hitting them with batons."
By-standers rushed to help those injured; some even stood between the police line and protesters, chanting in support of the protesters.
"Our objective was to march to the HKCEC designated protest area to have a peaceful sit-down rally," explains protest detainee, Kim Misun of the Joint Committee for Migrant Workers in Korea (JCMK). "We tried to shield ourselves against the pepper spray with flags attached to bamboo poles. As we were blinded by the pepper spray, some of us flung our poles towards the police."
Later, the police also used water cannons and teargas to disperse the crowd, including those not directly confronting the police. "I don't understand why the police targeted us with teargas, when we were simply staging a peaceful gathering?" questions DeFalco. She adds, "there was absolutely no warning given to us before they fired."
In contrast to the heavily armed police, the protesters were unarmed.
"I was surprised that the level of violence used against us by Hong Kong police was similar to the measures we saw in Korea under military dictatorship," states Kim. "I have hardly ever seen such violence used by Korean police since our country returned to a civilized government. The police here are clearly not used to protesters. Their lack of training was evident by their panicked and exaggerated response."
Shortly after the police fired teargas at 8.30pm, heavily armed riot police closed in on protesters from all sides. Many protesters complained they were not allowed to leave the protest area. Nurul Qoiriah, a marshal leading the migrants' groups, stated, "I tried to negotiate with the police to allow us to leave peacefully, as many of the migrant domestic workers had to return to work, but they refused to let us through. The police yelled at us to go the other direction, but we knew we had been blockaded on all sides."
Eventually, the migrants' group had to disband into small groups to slip through the police lines. Qoiriah adds, "By refusing to help and forcing us to disband our group, the police placed our safety at risk."
Local and international human rights organizations alike have denounced the Hong Kong police's response. "The tactics used by the Hong Kong police on December 17 were clearly out of line given the fact that all protesters were unarmed. The police, in contrast, were heavily armed with the most advanced anti-protest weapons, including tear-gas launching vehicles," asserts Asian Migrant Centre Executive Director, Rex Varona. "Our rights as protesters were curtailed through police action to block our protest and their subsequent heavy-handed tactics."
Charles Hector of the Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), an Asia-wide migration advocacy network with 260 member organizations, comments that law enforcement agencies should be representative of and accountable to the community as a whole. "We were protesting in support of farmers and poor people across the world, including migrant workers, who have been adversely affected by WTO trade rules. Through its actions towards protesters on December 17, the Hong Kong government clearly showed its alliance with global corporate interests, rather than those of the world's working poor."
For more information or an interview, please contact Kim Misun in Seoul of the Joint Committee for Migrant Workers in Korea (JCMK) at (82 2) 312-1686 or misunmumk.org, Sajida Ally of the Asian Migrant Centre (AMC) in Hong Kong at (852) 9802-3694 or sajidaasian-migrants.org, or William Gois of the Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) in Manila at (632) 433-3508 or mfapacfic.net.hk.
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