Wed, Nov 13, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Hong Kong’s protesting teenagers facing arrest, bullets and foster care

The teenagers, unlike their peers in the West, place an added value on their freedoms because of fears they could lose them as Beijing increases its control of the territory

By Shawna Kwan  /  Bloomberg

Illustration: Mountain People

On a Friday evening early last month, an off-duty Hong Kong police officer grabbed his holstered gun and warned away protesters who surrounded him.

One pulled him into a headlock and soon he was swarmed on the ground. A loud bang reverberated through the street. Hours later, photographs of a protester shot in the thigh did the rounds of social media. Public broadcaster RTHK said someone had been hit by a live bullet.

He was 14.

While idealistic students have played key roles in social and political movements around the world, Hong Kong’s teenagers are turning into activists at an unusually young age.

As thousands have taken to Hong Kong’s streets, marching through tear gas and baton-wielding police officers, some of those demonstrating have been students just out of junior high school, or even still in it.

The death on Friday last week of a 22-year-old student Alex Chow (周梓樂) in an area near a clash between police and protesters threatened to further inflame demonstrations that have become increasingly violent.

Besides the risk of serious injury or death, the teenagers helping to fuel the protests also pose a problem for Beijing — they are to oversee the transition when the “one country, two systems” framework underpinning Hong Kong’s autonomy expires in 2047.

Interviews with three young teenagers, lawyers and social workers reveal a generation growing politically charged through ideas picked up on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Telegram.

They have grown up in the former British colony that allows free flow of information and has a lengthy history of feisty protest movements, but unlike their peers in the West, they place an added value on these freedoms because of fears they could lose them as Beijing increases its control over their home. They do not trust the government, they identify as Hong Kongers rather than Chinese, and they are prepared to keep pushing for more freedoms — putting Hong Kong at risk of more violent protest movements for years to come.

“For countries with democracy, they take it for granted,” said Agnes Chow (周庭), 22, who became a social activist as a 15-year-old student only after reading about the government’s plans to change the education curriculum to promote nationalism. “They don’t treat it as something special. While to us, it’s difficult to gain.”

Hong Kong’s protests began in June with thousands taking to the streets to oppose a proposed bill that would have allowed extraditions to the mainland. While that bill has since been withdrawn, demonstrators have since widened their demands to include an investigation into police action and election reform.

Of the 1,812 people arrested in connection with protests between June 9 and Sept. 30, police data showed that 64 — or 3.5 percent — were under 16, the age when they can be tried in adult court. Last month, 8.5 percent of the 1,189 people arrested were minors.

One 14-year-old student said that he first joined the protests in mid-June after his exams because of his concerns about the extradition bill, which would have allowed Hong Kongers to be tried in courts in China.

His classmates are not as involved, so he often goes alone and keeps abreast of events through social media.

He always keeps his parents informed, he said, only goes to peaceful protests and is home by dinner at about 8pm.

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