HK Time Out Magazine – Column #6

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I’m currently contributing a short, light-hearted political column to Hong Kong Time Out Magazine. Below is the uncut, original version of my latest piece…

Making your protest count
Either the authorities in HK have highly questionable numeracy skills, or their protester head counts are based on political rather than mathematical reckoning. The Alliance claimed over 150,000 attended the moving and sombre 6/4 commemoration in Victoria Park, whilst the police gave a laughable estimate of 62,800. The tally for the previous Sunday’s march to LEGCO was put at 4,700 by the organisers and 8,000 by the authorities. This disparity happens every time and the two figures never match. One has to wonder if the number is just plucked randomly out of the air whilst the officers chomp on donuts, or whether they deliberately calculate a fraction of the organiser figure.

Protestors the world over will, in turn, overstate the turnout to suggest a widespread allegiance to the cause, although in the case of this month’s candlelit vigil, their estimate looked accurate when factoring in those queuing outside the playgrounds. The police, meanwhile, are always keen to discredit any display of dissent. Aside from challenging the government, greater numbers attending such gatherings equates to more work and expense for the force.

Mass civil disobedience works wonderfully and insulting underestimates are one way of discouraging large protests. Police certainly have no problems counting up to 30, which is the number of unauthorised protesters it takes to commit the archaic offence of ‘illegal assembly’. I’ve personally found myself ‘kettled’ in, followed and harassed by uniformed officers and undercover mainland goons – this happened recently, directly after the 6/4 vigil when a dozen of us continued to the China Liaison Office. Along with the deliberately vague and equally outdated ‘public nuisance’ offence (which saw several taxi drivers jailed earlier this month for blocking access to the airport) the Public Order Ordinance is overdue a reassessment.

Laws which effectively criminalise spontaneous dissent are common in supposedly free societies which practice ‘capitalism sans democracy’, and the authorities need to give fairer estimates of, and greater freedom of, protest. So make your own presence count and help defend civil liberties from 2pm in Victoria Park, at HK’s annual July 1st democracy rally. It is predicted, by all quarters, to be another high turnout – so be there or be uncounted!

Time Out Column - 24.6.09

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