At approximately 16.00 HKT, on 1 October 2019, a protestor was shot in the chest at close range by a member of the Honk Kong Police. The incident occurred in the Tsuen Wan district of Hong Kong; an area that had seen an escalation of violence in the hours preceding the shooting.

Footage circulating through various open source channels shows that protestors had targeted and isolated a group of officers during wide scale and increasingly violent demonstrations, attacking them with projectiles and metal batons. During the skirmish, an officer is seen falling to the ground before being set upon by protestors.

Analysis of the footage reveals that the protestors attacking the grounded officer were armed with various implements, including a hammer. Other officers are seen attempting to ward off the attackers, with one drawing his pistol as he enters the fray. This officer, also armed with on lethal weapons, kicks a protestor to the ground whilst others deploy tear gas. One protestor, later identified as 18-year old student, Tsang Chi-kin, is seen charging the officer with a metal pole. It is at this point that the officer fired a single shot into Chi-kin’s chest. It is unclear from the footage whether a warning was issued before the shot was fired, though official statements issued later on the same day assert that this is the case. At the time of reporting, Chi-kin was receiving treatment for his injuries at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and reported to be in a stable condition. He has been arrested for assaulting a police officer.

Following the incident, Police Chief Stephen Lo issued a statement asserting that the discharge of a live round was “lawful and reasonable” as the officer in question had reason to believe that his life and those of his colleagues were under threat. According to official reports, the incident was one of six live round discharges across Hong Kong, though no other gun shot wounds were reported. In addition, security forces deployed a suite of non-lethal measures, including 900 rubber bullets and 1400 tear gas rounds. Over 100 people were hospitalised across the territory, with 30 police officers injured. Police made 269 arrests, with the ages of those arrested ranging form 12 to 71 years old.

Analyst Comment

The 1 October is the official national day of the People’s Republic of China. A public holiday celebrating the establishment of communist rule in the country, authorities in Beijing celebrated the event with military processions and overt patriotic celebrations. In the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong, however, the occasion was marked as a ‘day of mourning’ by protestors. Four months of enduring civil unrest have been driven by fears of an erosion of democracy in the region.

Since June 2019, Hong Kong has experienced ongoing mass protests, with reportedly over two million participants. Initially, protestors took to the streets of Hong Kong to oppose an extradition Bill that would allow suspects to be deported to China for criminal trials. Despite the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam’s public withdrawal of the extradition bill on 4 September, many protestors say it has come too late. Although the protests initially began in opposition to the Bill, the motives behind these demonstrations have now evolved into wider issues regarding democratic reform. In order to achieve this, protestors have ordered that China drops all current charges on arrested protestors, retracts the term “riot” when classifying the protests of 12 June, and must launch an independent inquiry into police actions when engaging with protestors. Until these demands are accepted by the Chinese Government, or an agreement is struck between the protestors and authorities, these demonstrations are unlikely to cease.

Protestors argue that the implementation of the extradition Bill and China’s perceived crackdown on Hong Kong’s sovereignty has subsequently undermined the ‘one country, two systems’ model that initially granted Hong Kong its democratic and judicial freedom back in 1997. Under this model, Hong Kong has been able to follow a separate democratic Government, apply a mixture of British and Chinese law to their legal and judicial systems, and trade freely with the world at lower tax rates than mainland China. In the face of a perceived encroachment of Chinese authority, many Hong Kong nationals have protested to support the semi-autonomous region’s independence and to further protect the democratic society they have built since 1997.

Throughout the four months of civil unrest, protestors have widely confined their actions to weekends in a bid to minimise disruption to the population of Hong Kong. In many cases, prior consent has been sought to allow for gatherings to take place. Despite increased outbreaks of violence, consent has been granted in the majority of cases, with attendees being recorded in their millions. The levels of violence, though increasing, bely the actions of the majority of protestors. Hard line elements have driven outbreaks of violence in the face of allegations of heavy-handed policing. Under pressure from Beijing, the Hong Kong security forces have sought to quell protests decisively, and this has driven a growing resentment toward the police.

Prior consent for protests on 1 October was not granted, presumably in a bid to foreground celebration of the People’s Republic of China, and under pressure form authorities in Beijing. Without such consent in place, however, attendees were overwhelmingly those of a more hard-line disposition. An already febrile atmosphere in the face of such over celebration of Chinese authority was exacerbated by the attendance of protestors who were prepared and pre-disposed toward violence. Under pressure from Beijing authorities, and aware of the atmospherics on the ground; security force personnel will likely have been briefed to act decisively. As a result, the events of 1 October hold the potential to mark a turning point in the enduring protests. Without concerted efforts to reach a compromise between protestors, the Hong Kong executive and authorities in Beijing, the potential for further escalation remains.

On Wednesday 2 October, thousands of protestors marched through the streets of Hong Kong. Sit-in protests took place at a number of schools, including Tsuen Wan Public Ho Chuen Yiu Memorial College, where Chi-Kin is a student. Many protestors gathered outside the courtrooms where incarcerated protestors faced charges of rioting. The majority of these gatherings were peaceful. However, as the day wore on, reports suggest that these protests again turned violent, with road-blocks and transport hubs closed until the early hours of 3 October.

With a number of reports suggesting that officers were overwhelmed by the level of violence exhibited by protestors on 1 October, there will be an inevitable impact on the tactics and procedures employed to control demonstrators as Hong Kong prepares for the further retaliatory demonstrations. There have been calls for the government to impose a curfew over the region, though this has not been implemented at the time of reporting. Hard line elements amongst the demonstration movement may seek to capitalise on emotionally charged atmospherics in the region to incite further violence. If unchecked, such an escalatory cycle may incite authorities in Beijing to intervene overtly. Having previously restricted intervention to advice and low-level deployment of support personnel; China may see the actions of 1 October as a test of both the Hong Kong police department and the resolve of protestors. Predisposed as they are to allowing events to unfold before intervention, the People’s Republic of China also has a history of responding decisively to protest on the mainland. An increased force posture of security forces in the region bordering Hong Kong suggests that intervention remains a possible, though not desirable course of action.

It is advised that all but essential travel to the region be avoided. Public gatherings have the potential to escalate quickly, with protestors and security personnel likely to resort to violence without warning. Previous demonstrations have led to widespread travel disruption, with local buses, metro (MTR), airport services, flights and ferry terminals being suspended without notice.

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