Yonden Lhatoo
SCMP Columnist
Just Saying
by Yonden Lhatoo
Just Saying
by Yonden Lhatoo

Violence? What violence? It’s all peace and love on the Hong Kong protest front

  • Yonden Lhatoo says speaking out against the violence and lawlessness marring the city’s protest movement has become risky business these days, with only one side apparently entitled to free speech and opinion

“Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. Any man who has once proclaimed violence as his method is inevitably forced to take the lie as his principle.”

Most Hongkongers, especially many of our younger compatriots with their propensity for protesting over reading and getting an education, have never heard of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, but they would do well to heed the lesson in this quotable quote by the late Russian historian and novelist. Even though it may require a little more thought than Bruce Lee’s catchier “ be water, my friend” line that has become the preferred slogan of the protest movement.
Police and anti-extradition bill protesters clash in Admiralty on June 12. Photo: Felix Wong
I’m talking about the twilight zone we’re living in these days after weeks of mass protests sparked by the government’s ill-conceived extradition bill, where we cannot even mention the violence on our streets that has become the new normal without being shouted down or besieged by a lynch mob in complete denial.

Only those who are purportedly fighting for democracy are entitled to freedom of speech and expression, apparently, and anything counter to the protest narrative, even raising an eyebrow at the unlawful means being employed to achieve a political goal, earns you the wrath of “the people”.

Take the brouhaha over University of Hong Kong president Zhang Xiang’s criticism of the violence and lawlessness on July 1 when young protesters smashed their way into the city’s legislature and trashed it.

“I am disheartened by the violence that occurred in the Legislative Council building and would like to condemn such destructive acts,” he wrote, sparking a backlash among students who complained that he had maligned a peaceful protest movement, never mind that universities are supposed to be bastions of free speech and opinion.

Xiang Zhang addresses students on Friday night. Photo: Jonathan Wong

After being bullied into walking back his remarks to “clarify” that he was condemning violence “on all sides” – a forced acceptance of the protesters’ claims that police should be blamed instead for using tear gas and truncheons to provoke the peacemakers – Zhang is still unable to pacify his detractors.

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I watched him on television on Friday night as he came out to talk to students laying siege to his residence, trying to explain to them that while he was sympathetic regarding their many grievances, storming a government building and vandalising the premises could not be characterised as “peaceful” just because no one was physically attacked or injured on that occasion.
A suspect is arrested in Mong Kok as protesters retreat when riot police arrive to clear the area. Photo: Felix Wong

Like I said, the twilight zone. Watch the video footage of the clashes between protesters and police over the past weeks. See all those policemen using batons, pepper spray and tear gas? They all need to be investigated by a formal commission of inquiry and prosecuted for brutality. And what about the youths in masks and helmets charging police lines with bricks and metal rods? And the ones who were flinging drain cleaner and God knows what at frontline officers? They deserve a blanket amnesty because they were “provoked” while exercising their “diminishing freedom” to block roads, disrupt the lives of other citizens and upend the rule of law.

Riot police push protesters back as they occupy Nathan Road in Kowloon. Photo: Sam Tsang

Notice a pattern in that every mass rally ends in anarchy and clashes these days? After the bulk of protesters go home in the evening, to universal applause for keeping it peaceful, there’s always a bunch of louts and delinquents who remain on the streets throughout the night, openly looking for trouble. Dare to single them out for criticism and you’re accused of disparaging a noble cause.

The Legislative Council Complex in Tamar is smashed up on July 1. Photo: Sam Tsang

Violence? What violence? Nothing to see here, folks. It’s all gloriously peaceful and Nobel Prize-winning stuff. Blame the government for everything and use the V-word at your own peril.

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Use the V-word at your own peril, it’s all peaceful here