Disappearing children of Hong Kong forgotten in the protest chaos (www.smh.com.au)

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Hong KongA 15-year-old boy went to an outdoor film screening and didn’t come home.

Police took him away for wearing a face mask his father had told him to wear, worried about the tear gas that billows through Hong Kong‘s streets. His frantic parents were forced to go to the High Court to get him back.

Two girls, aged 13 and 15, were arrested at the same place that night, August 29, but remain in a children’s home, unable to attend the first week of school. Police obtained court orders removing all three teenagers from their parents’ care.

Children are having their bags searched by police, who are looking for gas masks and other indications they might be protesters.
Children are having their bags searched by police, who are looking for gas masks and other indications they might be protesters.CREDIT:GETTY IMAGES

The incident, largely lost among the headlines about Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam’s first offer of a concession to Hong Kong‘s protest movement on Wednesday, has alarmed youth workers in the city who describe the use of the children’s court to punish protesters as grossly unwarranted.

“We have seldom heard of police applying for a protection order for this situation, which is usually for abuse cases,” says Billy Wong, executive secretary for Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights.

Coming as they are: students wear gas masks while dressed in their formal white school uniforms.
Coming as they are: students wear gas masks while dressed in their formal white school uniforms.CREDIT:AP

“These children are deprived of school for a whole month. Yet these are capable parents with jobs who are capable of supervising their children.”

The families of the teenagers offered to impose curfews, and none of the three had been charged. They were detained for being near a big crowd of protesters outside Sham Shui Po police station, where a brick was thrown – but not by these teens – and laser pens were shone on the wall.

The court heard the 15 year old boy was wearing black, the 13 year old girl had a laser pointer and a mask, while the 15 year old girl carried a laser pointer, mask and a bandage in her backpack.

Police did not find weapons in their bags,” says Wong, who is concerned the Tuen Mun children’s home is preparing space to take in more teenage protesters under the new police tactic.

This week, as schools and universities returned for the start of the academic year, many students chose instead to boycott classes. The extent of students’ involvement in this summer’s protests was revealed when they donned school uniforms instead of black.

At a rally in Tamar Park outside the chief executive’s office on Tuesday evening, a pair of pony-tailed girls wore school dresses modestly hemmed below the knee, but accessorised with masks.

They chanted enthusiastically for Hong Kong‘s freedom as older protesters pointed laser pens at government offices. They said their parents supported them. Other students admitted their parents are not happy they protest, but they sneak out to attend them.

Some of Hong Kong‘s most prestigious schools allowed students to form human chains outside school front gates if they had parental permission.

Mostly young, black-shirted protesters have taken on Hong Kong's government, and by extension Beijing.
Mostly young, black-shirted protesters have taken on Hong Kong‘s government, and by extension BeijingCREDIT:AP

The three teenagers removed from their homes could have been any of the tens of thousands of students who have been on the streets over summer if they had been caught. Police have ramped up street patrols and occupied train stations to check bags for protester equipment: gas respirators, laser pens, posters, black pens.

The High Court on Thursday temporarily released the 15-year-old boy back to his family with a 10pm curfew, after his lawyer argued he was a good student and the detention was unjustified. His school principal had written to the court expressing his support.

But the family will need to apply for a judicial review of the custodianship order.

The court was told his father knew he had gone to see the Netflix film Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, screening at multiple outdoor sites across Hong Kong that night.

The film – which profiles Ukrainian democracy protesters including a 12-year-old boy – has had a huge impact on Hong Kong youth.

Protesters, many not yet born in 1989, have found their blueprint in the 2014 Euromaidan protests in Kiev.

Hong Kong protest leader Joshua Wong has told the Kiev Post: “We are strongly aware of, and inspired by, a documentary named Winter on Fire … and by how the people in Ukraine started a strike to fight for their freedom.”

The Euromaidan protests began peacefully but escalated after police bludgeoned students in a dispersal operation. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians came out onto the streets.

Young and ready for the fight. The Hong Kong protests have a special meaning for students.
Young and ready for the fight. The Hong Kong protests have a special meaning for students.CREDIT:BLOOMBERG

For Hong Kong‘s protesters, this parallels their June 12 – when police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at a largely peaceful crowd, propelling 2 million onto the streets the following Sunday.

But the Euromaidan clashes with police turned lethal and 130 people died. Many were killed by snipers shooting down from buildings.

Activists were kidnapped and killed, their bodies found dumped. The protests ended after the violence peaked, and the parliament passed laws to cancel anti-protest operations and free political prisoners.

Despite the violent outcome, the Winter on Fire storyline is fuelling young protesters’ fevered response to a hardening police crackdown by Lam’s government.

With more than 1000 arrests in Hong Kong since June – 30 young people were arrested on a single bus on Tuesday night – an immigration detention centre near the Chinese border is reportedly being used to take the overflow from police cells.

Data shows most people are being bailed.

But the Hong Kong Bar Association has complained of lengthy delays in lawyers gaining access to arrested protesters, and say widespread beatings by police have resulted in protesters being frequently hospitalised.

Kiev in January 2014, during the Euromaidan protest.
Kiev in January 2014, during the Euromaidan protest.CREDIT:AP

Hospital staff have decried the baton injuries they are seeing.

Among Hong Kong‘s youth the rumours are rife – they say someone died in the Prince Edward Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station last Saturday night.

This is why protesters return to the station each evening to lay white flowers and shine laser pens at police, who send out the riot police and rubber bullets.

Police deny there have been deaths. A paramedic who spoke to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age also said the rumour was not true.

Demonstrators wear gas masks during a strike rally at Tamar Park.
Demonstrators wear gas masks during a strike rally at Tamar Park.CREDIT:BLOOMBERG

Opposition politicians have called on MTR to release CCTV footage showing what happened inside the station on August 31 after media and medics were evicted by riot police to quell the fear.

Stopped and searched by police on Tuesday evening in Admiralty station for wearing a black t-shirt, one young man, Gary, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age he panicked because he had heard people arrested could disappear for 24-48 hours.

At least two Hong Kong protest organisers were recently attacked with sticks by masked thugs. Unlike Kiev in 2014, police have made arrests.

Despite Lam’s withdrawal of the extradition bill and her call for dialogue, she made it clear police operations against protesters would continue.

The High Court decision to return the teenager to his parents also highlights the difference between Hong Kong and mainland China – and the prized judicial independence that Hong Kong protesters feel is at stake.

Having pushed for a police crackdown on protesters, Beijing is now calling for the judges to toe the line.

The High Court this week overturned a ban on Umbrella activist Agnes Chow running for elections.

Chinese propaganda organs were furious protest leaders Joshua Wong and Chow were out on bail within hours of their arrest in a police sweep against alleged protest leaders. The Appeal Court meanwhile released Occupy activist Benny Tai from jail a fortnight ago.

China Daily editorial accused Hong Kong judges of siding with protesters. Beijing‘s liaison office for Hong Kong on Tuesday said pointedly it expected the judiciary to show “no tolerance” for protest planners and leaders.

The political threat only highlights the reason Hong Kong citizens reacted so strongly against the prospect of extradition to Chinese courts.

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