The United Nations is calling on Hong Kong authorities to address the humanitarian crisis in the city’s Polytechnic University (PolyU).
Rubert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the situation at the university was “clearly deteriorating” and urged the local authorities to “facilitate a peaceful solution,” according to a Nov. 19 press briefing.
Intense clashes between police and protesters at PolyU began this weekend. On Sunday, the police surrounded the school and sealed off any exits preventing protesters from leaving. People were also prevented from entering, aside from medics and special mediators who arrived at the scene.
Following the police barraging the campus with tear gas and projectiles, hundreds have either fled or voluntarily surrendered to the police.
On Nov. 20 morning, John Lee, Hong Kong’s secretary of security, gave the latest numbers: at least 900 have left PolyU and surrendered to the police. Among them, about 300 were under 18, according to local media. He added that all adults over 18 were arrested on suspicion of rioting.
As of the time of writing, PolyU’s president Teng Jin-Guang said that there were still about 100 people inside the school, with about 20 of them being school students, according to Hong Kong media. Derek Liu, president of PolyU’s student union, gave similar estimates.
Teng added that sanitation conditions at the school were not good, and that the school campus was not safe due to the presence of “chemicals and other dangerous items,” pleading with those remaining protesters to leave.
He said that he had communicated with the police, and he was assured that the police would not initiate any use of force. He urged people not to take any dangerous methods to leave the school, since somebody from the university or himself would accompany those voluntarily leaving to the local police station. About 10 people left with him on Nov. 20 evening.
The UN statement also expressed concerns about the “increasing violence by groups of young people engaging in the protests,” and appealed to people taking part in protests to renounce and condemn the use of violence. Protesters have thrown petrol bombs and fired arrows at police during the PolyU clashes.
“Accountability for violence is also key–both in the case of individuals who have broken the law and committed acts of violence, but also in the case of allegations of excessive use of force by the police,” it added.
It called on the Hong Kong government to resolve the crisis peacefully and through dialogue.
PolyU student union head Liu added that three of the school’s newspaper staff were arrested this past Sunday and Monday after conducting interviews at the campus, on suspicion of taking part in a riot. He added that they were then released on bail.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association and Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, in a joint statement issued on Nov. 20, stated their “extreme disappointment” at how police had set up a series of restraints limiting freedom of the press at PolyU and nearby areas.
The statement listed two particular examples: police pointed their guns at four reporters to scare them off from entering PolyU. In another instance, the police forced a photojournalist on his knees and to unlock his cellphone.
At least 13 reporters from school media and online media were arrested, according to the statement. It called on the police to open up PolyU so that the press can conduct interviews inside the school.