Hong Kong police have been handed a free pass to make calls on whether the New Year merrymaking crowd are rabble-rousing protesters or harmless revelers.
“We will do our best to help residents who are welcoming in the New Year,” said Lee Man-yiu, Hong Kong’s acting superintendent for traffic control on Monday. “As to any unlawful acts, police will take resolute enforcement action.”
“Police at the scene will make proper judgements as to whether residents are holding a celebratory event or an illegal act,” Lee added.
For Umbrella Movement demonstrators, Lee’s statement won’t be good news.
The pro-democracy protesters have been rather active this holiday season, organizing “shopping” protests, concerts, and “caroling” sessions in Mong Kok, Causeway Bay and Admiralty, the three former occupied sites.
Police have coined these activities “mobile occupation” in numerous statements, a somewhat accurate description of current Umbrella protest developments since the static 79-day long holding of roads on Dec. 15.
Police technical jargon may have changed, but police have not deviated from their tactics of roughing up and intimidating protesters, real or suspected.
On Christmas day alone, police arrested 37 protesters, and detained a huge crowd on a street in Mong Kok, demanding that they turn over identification for recording if they wanted to leave. Innocent passers-by and protesters alike were caught in the police cordon, which lasted for about three hours.
And in a statement on Dec. 30, police declared that they have so far arrested 49 people between the ages 13 and 76 for offenses such as “obstructing police officer in execution of duty” and “criminal damage.”
Undeterred, protesters have scheduled a number of events for New Year’s eve, but they are set to face more than three times the number of cops than on Christmas.
A 3,000-strong police force comprised mainly of anti-triad officers has been tasked to eyeball merrymakers at the New Year celebrations, South China Morning Post reports. Police are estimating at least 370,000 people will show up on Kowloon peninsular and Hong Kong Island for the Victoria Harbor fireworks display.
Perhaps out of fear that protesters could hijack the New Year festivities, Hong Kong’s Times Square in Causeway Bay had earlier cancelled their annual ball drop—a smaller scaled version of the Times Square, New York City event—for the first time in twenty years. A countdown at Tsim Sha Tsui Harbor City has also been called off.
Given the recent spate of police violence and the traffic chief’s announcement of the police’s arbitrary powers to discern protesters from reveler, however, Hongkongers looking to ring in 2015 have more reason to fear the bloated police detachment than the pro-democracy protesters.