Around 100 protesters remained trapped inside Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University (PolyU) as of Nov. 19 evening, as Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam criticized them for turning local universities into “weapons factories.”
In her weekly press conference on Nov. 19, Lam said that 400 people have left PolyU voluntarily and were subsequently arrested by police surrounding the campus, on suspicion of rioting. She added that 200 others, who were under the age of 18, were allowed to go home after the police collected their personal information.
Some had escaped on Monday by scaling gates and gliding down ropes and plastic hosing dropped from a footbridge.
Lam said that police had the right to take legal action against the underage protesters. But she said her government was committed to handling these young protesters in a “humanitarian manner.” She added that she was committed to resolving the PolyU crisis peacefully.
Intense clashes between the police and protesters at PolyU began this weekend, and police have since surrounded the university campus, firing rubber bullets and tear gas, and blocking people trapped inside the school from leaving. Protesters fired back petrol bombs and arrows.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong saw similar intense clashes between protesters and police on Nov. 12.
When asked by a reporter whether she would “make sure that people trapped inside [PolyU] can return home safely, and will not receive any unfair treatment, even if they are to be arrested,” Lam responded by saying that both those arrested and those underage will receive “fair treatment” from the police if they gave up their weapons and turned themselves in.
However, she added: “I cannot give an absolute guarantee because the situation is changing. If we see any ‘life-threatening situation’ … then the police will take ‘necessary actions’ to prevent any ‘tragedy’ from happening.”
Over the past week, Hong Kong’s transportation service has been limited due to protesters’ actions, including blocking the door of metro trains, setting up roadblocks, and throwing objects onto railway tracks. They sought to initiate a general strike in an effort to pressure the government into fulfilling their demands, including establishing an independent inquiry into police use of force and granting citizens universal suffrage.
Lam condemned the strike action, while claiming that one college had a stockpile of over several thousand unused petrol bombs. Chemicals were also stolen from colleges’ laboratories to make weapons, she said. However, Lam did not name any college or disclose how Hong Kong authorities obtained this information.
On Nov. 1, Reuters reported protesters were learning self-defense at classes held at colleges, in order to defend themselves from police officers. Multiple international rights groups, including UK-based NGOs Amnesty International and Hong Kong Watch, have repeatedly voiced concerns about the police’s violent tactics against protesters and journalists.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in a statement issued on Nov. 18, expressed concern at the “escalation in violence from both the protesters and the authorities around Hong Kong university campuses.”