Beating New Life Into Occupy Central

Just as Hong Kong’s protest movement seemed to be losing steam, a video of a protester being assaulted by police in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday morning has re-energized the movement:

In footage by local television station TVB, the protester, later identified as Civic Party member Ken Tsang, is escorted by six officers to a dark corner and pushed to the ground, his hands bound in a plastic tie. The government later confirmed there were seven officers involved in the assault, all of whom have now been suspended. In the video, police then punch and kick Tsang while others stand watch, which the reporter narrating the scene has said lasted for about four minutes. …

The video quickly went viral on Facebook, Hong Kong’s social network of choice, with web users launching a so-called “human-flesh search,” using social media to identify those involved in the beating. An Oct. 5 page on Facebook originally used to identify anti-occupy protesters was quickly repurposed to identify abusive police. Some netizens have even condemned police officers as “black cops,” slang meaning they have forfeited their role as public servants, working instead for undefined “dark” forces.

Suzanne Sataline was present for the police raid where the video was allegedly taken:

Around two o’clock, a cry arose from the crowd. “Police!” people shouted. The trill of whistles pierced the air. The protesters raced from the tunnel, donning safety goggles and masks. After 10 minutes, a sea of bobbing blue lights drew closer from the road’s western end. Word raced through the crowd. More police were coming from the east. And a cluster of white lights emerged from the walkway along Victoria Harbour. None had helmets — a good sign, I thought. That meant no tear gas. Hundreds of officers, with round riot shields, began pushing the crowd backwards, toward the tunnel. Another contingent pushed protesters in the other direction. Suddenly, the officers coming from the shore amassed a few feet from a group of us in Tamar Park, a small patch of lawn and trees atop the highway tunnel. The officers addressed the crowd over a bullhorn.

“They say we are here illegally,” said Lock Cheung, a freelance videographer. “Police say if they don’t leave, they will use spray.” The crowd hissed. “Gangsters!” Cheung urged us to be careful. The police, he said, “don’t follow any rules anymore.”

In Ben Leung’s opinion, the incident will likely push many fence-sitters onto the demonstrators’ side:

For the neutrals, this episode could well be the tipping point. Yes, the protests themselves had lost momentum over the past 10 days or so. Yes, people are generally fed up or simply bored of the protests and the disruptions caused. But after such a brutal beating—which we know happens all the time behind closed doors at police stations or in panda cars but just never in public—it’s become harder for many to just sit on the fence. Indeed, more people are back out on the streets Wednesday night outside the main police HQ in the Admiralty District, and angrier than ever.

In response to the news, the government quickly revived an offer to hold talks with the protesters:

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the government is ready to meet with student leaders as soon as next week, but urged them to be pragmatic, reiterating that Beijing will not change its mind on election restrictions. That raised doubts that the proposed meeting can overcome the vast differences between the two sides. Alex Chow of the Hong Kong Federation of Students welcomed Leung’s offer but criticized the government for setting preconditions. Many other demonstrators gathered in the main protest zone echoed his view. “I paid attention to what (Leung) said but I couldn’t find anything constructive. He didn’t say anything new and I don’t think it is going to break this deadlock,” said Tong Wing-ho, 26.

Lily Kuo didn’t hear anything too encouraging in Leung’s presser either:

Leung did float one topic that could potentially entice protesters: changing the make-up of the mostly Beijing-appointed nominating committee. “In the second round of consultation, we can still listen to everyone’s views,” he said. “There is still room to discuss issues including the exact formation of the nomination committee.” The students have insisted that changes to the committee won’t be enough, and have publicly insisted on civic nomination. Although unlikely, the possibility that the committee could be reconfigured, potentially allowing non-Beijing approved candidates to make it onto the ballot, might be enough to tempt some of the protest leaders to make the most of their considerable political leverage—and cut a deal.