Border villagers blame police activity for riot
ANGRY Sha Tau Kok villagers claim increased police activity in the area was the cause of last week's riot, which saw officers pelted with rocks and bottles after they tried to arrest a resident suspected of running an illegal gambling syndicate.
The villagers say they were also angry with a new ruling which required them to travel to Fanling to apply for border permits for their friends and relatives to visit them. Previously they could apply for permits in their own village.
One villager who only identified himself as Mr So said the new ruling, enforced in July, was aimed at curbing misuse of the permits and had made smuggling activities in the area much more difficult. The ruling was adopted after a border-area midnight to 4 am curfew - in effect since 1952 to combat gun-running during the Korean War and to control illegal immigration - was lifted on August 1.
'Things changed a lot after the curfew was lifted. Before, police were more tolerant because of the special circumstances in the area,' said Mr So, who is known by villagers as 'Big Brother'.
'We did not want this [clash] to happen but the villagers were really angry about the operation on Monday; we lost a lot of money,' he said. 'When they saw a villager being beaten their anger turned to violence.' On October 3, the police undertook an operation to locate 300 kilograms of pork believed to have been smuggled over the border.
'About 30 trucks were found to be involved in this kind of pork smuggling,' said Sha Tau Kok Police Divisional Commander John Fuller. 'We believe a lot of people are involved and the confiscation of their smuggled goods would mean a big loss in revenue for them.
'Possibly this is why they were so angry with the police and used this as an excuse to riot on Wednesday night,' said Mr Fuller.
Chung Ying Street, the border which splits Sha Tau Kok into Shenzhen and Hong Kong sides, has always been viewed as an area difficult to control. Residents from both sides are allowed to trade in Chung Ying Street, the village's main road. Outsiders need a special permit from the Border District police to enter this area.
Mr Fuller said the area encouraged illegal activities. 'They smuggle cigarettes, pork and textile products because of the huge price difference in the two places,' he said.
'Some of them even arrange for illegal immigrants to be smuggled across.' Mr Fuller said the illegal activities are jointly arranged by the villagers and outsiders who want to work in Chung Ying Street.
'They can ask their village friends or simply pay them to apply for a closed-area work permits for them.' Meanwhile, the man at the centre of the riot claims he was seriously beaten by police officers on two occasions.
Transport worker So Wing-wah, 24, who was released on $5,000 bail last Thursday, says he is too scared to make a formal complaint. 'It is so small in Sha Tau Kok, they [police] can easily get you,' he told the Sunday Morning Post.
Mr So explained he was arrested as he was walking past Block 6 of the village. He says he was pushed against a wall and handcuffed. 'Then they started beating me on my back,' he claimed.
Locals claim officers continued to beat him as he was being led to the police van.
'I heard other villagers trying to stop them beating me by shouting,' said Mr So. 'Then we were surrounded by a crowd of villagers and the riot started. The van then drove me out of the village and I was detained at the police station nearby.' Mr So claims he was transferred to the police headquarters in Sheung Shui, where he was detained for the night, and then moved to a police station in Fanling.
'After arriving at that police station, my head was covered with black cloth and I was pushed into a room. They pushed me to a chair, and I was beaten on the back again,' he said.
Police said the case is still under investigation and declined to comment on the allegations.