Hong Kong protests: police chief says no deadline for resolving Polytechnic University crisis
- In first public comments on PolyU stand-off, new police commissioner sets out exemptions for immediate arrest, calls for peaceful conclusion
- At least eight believed to have left campus overnight following pleas from ‘first-aiders’ but others refuse to go, fearing police trap
Hong Kong’s new police chief said on Friday there was no deadline for dealing with protesters barricaded inside Polytechnic University, as he urged them to come out so the crisis could be resolved peacefully.
Dozens of radicals were still believed to be holed up on the Hung Hom campus on Friday as the stand-off with police entered its sixth day.
In his first public comment on the issue since taking charge of the 31,000-strong force, Chris Tang highlighted the importance of a peaceful resolution as he warned the campus was becoming increasingly dangerous.
He also promised not to arrest minors or those with immediate medical needs on the spot. Those who were over 18 would be arrested straight away, he added. The chief said the force reserved the right to arrest underage protesters later.
“We hope to end the matter peacefully. We have not set any deadline,” Tang said on Friday, when he visited his staff in the Police Sports and Recreation Club in Kowloon Tong.
“There are many explosives and petrol bombs inside. The conditions are deteriorating. To the people who remain inside, I think you do not want your family members, friends and visitors to be worried.
“I hope you can come out as soon as possible and solve the matter peacefully.”
Dozens of protesters were estimated to remain at PolyU by Friday night, including several secondary students who were unable to be located by their principals during a visit to the campus in the morning.
In the early hours on Friday, the protesters were offered a way out by self-proclaimed medical assistants, who entered the grounds at about 12.30am after they claimed police handed them a numbered card.
These medical assistants claimed those who followed them out could go straight into an ambulance and be exempted from immediate arrest.
“We just want to get people out safely without being shot or beaten by ‘Raptors’ [police’s Special Tactical Squad],” one in the group said.
“We will call ambulances for them if they want to leave and they won’t be arrested by police.”
It is understood that six of the eight people who followed the group to leave the campus were sent to the hospital.
A senior police source said they allowed the group in, but added that the force had never invited first-aiders to PolyU to convince the protesters to surrender. Instead, many scholars, politicians, public figures and medical groups had approached the force, hoping to enter the premises to speak to those still inside or offer them medical assistance.
“For medical volunteers, we only allowed those coming from reputable organisations to enter. We collected their personal data before they got in,” the source said.
A third-year student at PolyU, who gave his name as John, said he had tried and failed on three occasions to escape through police cordons since Sunday, but would not give up.
“I won’t surrender myself to police because I have already stayed here for this long. My parents are of course worried and have suggested escape routes to me before, but none of them worked,” the 21-year-old said.
A protester known as “the cook” for operating the canteen and feeding his fellow protesters for the past few days, said he was prepared to be the last one to leave.
“I have nothing to lose and I don’t regret coming in to serve food to people with the same ideals. I will stay until the end because I am physically strong,” he said.
Dr Arisina Ma Chung-yee, president of the Public Doctors’ Association, said none of the emergency medical workers who were arrested on Sunday when they left the campus had been charged. She said at least six to seven doctors were detained in a police station for 24 hours following the arrest and were released on bail.
Dr Darren Mann, a surgeon who provided medical help to protesters inside the university on Sunday night, described the situation had been a “complex humanitarian crisis”.
“You got 300 dangerously injured young people ... trapped in the university. I think I would call it a crisis,” Mann said on Friday.
Mann, who had experience working in war zones, recalled the scene when he saw a group of emergency medical workers was detained by police.
“A whole team of medical emergency providers was sitting on the floor, with their hands zip-locked behind their backs,” Mann said. “I was horrified.”
“How could your emergency medical providers be arrested and handcuffed and obstructed from providing care the society so badly needed?” he said.
He said he welcomed Tang to contact him directly and have a dialogue on the protection of those emergency medical service providers.
In his article published in medical journal The Lancet on Thursday, Mann wrote the actions of Hong Kong police “have fallen far below accepted international norms for the handling of volunteer emergency medical [service] providers”.
“The arrest of these personnel is almost unheard of in civilised countries and is incompatible with the compact of humanitarianism,” he wrote.
Dr Arisina Ma Chung-yee, president of the Public Doctors’ Association, said none of the emergency medical workers who were arrested on Sunday had been charged yet. She said at least six to seven doctors were among the arrestees, who were detained in a police station for 24 hours following the arrest and were released on bail.