Mong Kok riot an assault against all who cherish the freedoms we enjoy in Hong Kong
City’s authorities must show no mercy on a tiny minority who sought to turn a minor dispute over illegal hawking into political gain
There is never an excuse for violence, no matter how wronged someone may feel. The rioting that erupted in Mong Kok as the Lunar New Year got under way may seem to some an ill omen for the 12 months ahead. But to put prophetic significance in the manipulation of a dispute by a minority intent on seeking political gain is to give credibility to their actions. That is why there has justifiably been such wholesale condemnation of those behind the attacks that so brutally targeted police.
How a dispute between illegal street hawkers and food and hygiene inspectors took so terrible a turn will be determined by an investigation. But there is no dispute that the involvement of a number of organisations with political agendas, Hong Kong Indigenous prominent among them, took advantage for their own selfish ends. A spokesman for the localism group who is standing in a Legislative Council by-election later this month was among those arrested. Hong Kong has every means to allow views and opinions to be openly expressed; confronting authorities with violence is not one of them and can never be tolerated.
The ferocity of the attacks has not been witnessed on our streets for decades. Bricks, planks and bottles were hurled at point-blank range at police; the images of an officer lying defenceless on the ground while encircled by an out-of-control mob cannot be forgotten. There was no respect for authority and the law or even the rights of a free press. Police bore the brunt of the unrest, dozens being injured, but also among those hurt were at least four journalists.
Given the dangers, police had every right to defend themselves. The violence was unlike the relative orderliness of the Occupy protests in 2014, with protesters arriving armed with shields and makeshift weapons. The chaos in the wake of the clearing of the unlicensed hawkers was cover for organisers to mobilise and confront; within hours, hundreds of people were angrily facing off with police, making clashes inevitable. The laws that society has laid down to punish and deter such behaviour have to be fully exercised against those who have been arrested, charged with a crime and found guilty.
The start of a new year is a time for hope and joy. Those who willfully hijacked the occasion in Mong Kok to selfishly push their agenda have ignored the rights and freedoms of others. Their actions can only be condemned in the strongest possible manner.