Drop All Charges Against Anti-WTO Political Prisoners in HK!
Apology from HK Police and Government on Brutality Against the Demonstrators
Derail the World Trade Organisation!
Released during the “Regional Trade Strategy Meeting”
28 February – 1 March 2006, Bangkok, Thailand
We are representatives of organisations from 12 countries who met at the Regional Trade Strategy Meeting in Bangkok. We represent workers, trade unions, peasants, fisherfolks, women, migrants, academics, indigenous peoples, sex workers, people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA), debt cancellation, trade and development advocacy groups, and human rights campaigners.
We are advocates against the WTO and the neo-liberal globalisation agenda that it represents. These neoliberal policies and agreements have caused devastating impacts on the jobs, livelihoods, food security, social welfare and lives of peoples all over the world. Therefore, we actively campaigned against the WTO 6th Ministerial Conference in December 2005 in Hong Kong, and continue to campaign against the WTO. We oppose the “Hong Kong Declaration” signed by the WTO in December 2005 as a further strengthening of the WTO and its neoliberal agenda.
Arrest of Anti-WTO Protestors
On 17 December 2005, after 6 days of peaceful and disciplined protests, the HK Police, without any provocation or reason, blocked a peaceful march by farmers and advocates; the march had the required permits. The demonstrators resisted the police blockades and tried to break through in order to continue marching to the HK Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) where the WTO Ministers were meeting.
The demonstrators were unarmed and disciplined. They never engaged in any street riot on the 17th, or any day during the week-long protest. The demonstrations were against the WTO, not the police. On the 17th in particular, the march was warmly supported by the Hong Kong public, as people clapped and cheered along the route and gave water, food and support especially to the farmers.
In contrast, the police were fully armed with truncheons, pepper spray, tear gas, and guns. The police used the truncheons, pepper spray and teargas in order to brutally disperse the demonstrators, and protect the WTO negotiations inside the HK CEC. The police teargas hurt the by-standers, including the media; most of the injured were demonstrators who were beaten or sprayed by the police.
After the teargas dispersal, the remaining demonstrators reassembled and staged a peaceful sit-in protest on the street; the police cordoned off the whole district as they closed-in and rounded-up these protestors. More than 1,000 protestors were subsequently arrested and detained.
Most of the detainees were treated inhumanely during detention. The police detained the protestors all night in an outdoor area, exposed to the cold temperature and forced to stand for over 10 hours, without access to food, warm clothing and toilet. Some detainees complained that they were slapped on the face, strip-searched, and denied access to lawyers. In the detention cells, the detainees were crammed in very small space which only had open, common toilets.
In callous disregard for health and safety, the Police also refused urgent medical request to release or at least have access to a number of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHAs) who needed to take their anti-retroviral (ARV) treatments. As a result, denial of their treatment endangered the lives of these people and undermined the whole treatment process.
All this maltreatment shows that the Hong Kong police had seriously violated the basic human rights of the detainees.
Two activists to stand trial
Due to lack of evidence, the police subsequently released all but 14 of the protesters. The 14 were detained for days and belatedly charged with “unlawful assembly”. This gives the HK Government the dishonorable reputation of brutal repression of the WTO protests, and its readiness to hold political prisoners for the sake of WTO. Later, and again for lack of evidence, the 12 were also released and all charges were dropped.
Today, Hong Kong still holds two anti-WTO political prisoners – Mr. Park In-Hwan and Mr. Yeon Il-Kwon, both from the Korean Peasants League. They have been charged with “illegal assembly”, and their 10-day trial is scheduled to start on 2 March 2006 in Hong Kong.
We strongly condemn the Hong Kong government for the arrest, detention, and inhumane treatment of the activists. We condemn the police brutality and repression of peaceful protest. We condemn the government for demonizing the demonstrations (calling it a “riot”) and the protestors (as “rioters”).
We are concerned that this model of brutal repression and demonisation of peaceful anti-WTO and anti-neoliberal protests have become standard practice by WTO and host governments, in the guise of stopping “riots”. The WTO and governments that suppress legitimate people’s protests should be held accountable.
We are concerned that some media reporters, e.g. in Hong Kong, have uncritically adopted the government line and continue to refer to the anti-WTO protests as “riots” and the two arrested activists as “rioters”.
Participating in demonstrations against the WTO is not a crime. The Hong Kong government has no reason to prosecute the protestors on any charge. On the contrary, the protest is a very important action of the global justice movement. It is the people’s right to resist the WTO and struggle against its neoliberal, corporate agenda.
Therefore, we support the global campaign of the HK People’s Alliance to demand that:
1. The Hong Kong government drop all charges against Mr. Park In-Hwan and Mr. Yeon Il-Kwon. They should be released immediately and unconditionally.
2. The Hong Kong government should immediately apologize for calling the demonstration as a “riot”.
3. The Hong Kong government and the police should apologize for the inhumane treatment of the detainees and the brutal handling of the peaceful protests.
4. The HK government should apologise to the PLHAs and compensate them and ensure that they get proper and new course of treatment.
We call on fellow advocates to continue our global campaign to derail the WTO and stop its neoliberal globalization agenda.
Endorsed by participants of the “Regional Trade Strategy Meeting”, 1 March 2006, Thailand.