By Zena Chamas and Neelima Choahan for the ABC
Owan won’t say how he managed to escape Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University or how long it took, but what he will say is that it wasn’t easy.
A last group of defiant protesters still remain trapped inside the university, surrounded by police, after more than two days of clashes in which more than 200 people have been injured.
On Tuesday afternoon, police said 100 protesters had given themselves up after walking out of the university, accompanied by a former chairman of the city’s Legislative Council and several secondary school principals.
Parents of those who remain inside are parents holding anxious vigil.
One mother in her 50s said she was terrified that police would storm the campus with guns blazing and her 18-year-old son would be injured or even killed.
“I’m worried when the police go in to attack there will be heavy casualties, a Tiananmen 2.0,” she said.
She was referring to the 1989 quashing of pro-democracy protests in the Chinese capital that left hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people dead at the hands of the Chinese military.
A woman named Cheung said she had spent last night in a park near a police cordon as she waited for news of her adult son, who she said came to the campus as a first aider.
“I was very, very worried, worried his life could be in danger. He’s scared. He’s scared about being arrested by the cops,” she said.
People hold their mobile phones as they gather outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University to pray for the students who are barricaded inside. Photo: AFP
Owan, who would not give his full name for fear of reprisals, managed to escape on Tuesday morning just before police blocked off the campus entrances.
But he is worried about those he left behind.
They [protesters] still have food and drink, but not sure how long they can last,” he told the ABC.
Police surrounded the university on Sunday and have been laying siege to it ever since, using tear gas and rubber bullets while themselves coming under fire from protesters armed with bricks, petrol bombs and even bows and arrows.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she hoped the standoff between police and protesters could be resolved, telling media there were only 100 protesters trapped inside with 600 already having left.
But Owan said there were more than 200 people still inside the campus.
‘They have no way to leave’
Hong Kong Polytechnic University has been at the centre of the standoff in the past week and has seen the most intense violence in five months of anti-government demonstrations.
Some of the protesters who escaped on Monday night did so by lowering themselves about 10 metres from a bridge they had occupied on the campus to a flyover below.
A number of them appeared subsequently to have been arrested, a witness told Reuters.
Exhausted, and feeling defeated, Owan spoke to the ABC about what it’s like being trapped inside the campus.
“The people inside are struggling and facing challenges because they have no way to leave,” he said.
“They are worried about police brutality.”
Owan said the protesters left inside were divided into two groups; those who wanted to leave without being caught by police, and those who were determined to stop police from invading the campus.
“In Hong Kong police brutality is very serious and there’s a lot of conflict between police and students, it’s a very serious problem,” he said.
“They are still in a very high-tense situation.”
Unwell and injured protesters wait for medics at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in the Hung Hom district of Hong Kong on 19 November 2019. Photo: AFP
Protests in Hong Kong are in their fifth month and show little sign of ending, as pro-democracy advocates continue to demand the resignation of Ms Lam and a review of police conduct.
The unrest began as a pushback against an attempt by the city’s Beijing-backed government to hustle through a bill that would have allowed the extradition of accused criminals to mainland China.
Protesters are angry about what they see as police brutality and meddling by Beijing in the freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula put in place when the territory returned to China from British rule in 1997.
China denies interfering and has blamed Western countries, including Britain and the United States, for stirring up trouble.
In recent days, the protests have been marred by violence with a 70-year-old street cleaner dying after being hit by a brick thrown by a “masked rioter”. Earlier this month a student protester died after falling from a parking lot during demonstration.
The police, who have called the protesters “terrorists” and “rioters” say 4491 people, aged from 11 to 83, have been arrested since the unrest began.
Drop the ‘rioters’ tag, students beg
Parents of some of the students holed up inside the university said their children dared not surrender because the government had labelled them as rioters even though some were merely entrapped by a police siege.
Ms Lam has said those under 18 will not be immediately arrested, but could face charges later.
A pastor, who only gave his name as Phua, said parents were appealing to the Government to be more compassionate in resolving the crisis without bloodshed.
He said the students were willing to face the law, but many were distrustful of police and were upset they were pronounced guilty of rioting by the Government even before they were charged.
“I think it is ridiculous and unacceptable to call us rioters,” he said.
– ABC / wires