Hong Kong policeman stabbed in ‘lone wolf’ attack, security chief says


By Joshua Berlinger, Lauren Lau and Julia Hollingsworth, CNN

They came with white flowers to honor a man charged with attempted murder.

His victim was a seemingly random police officer – and for some in Hong Kong, that not only justified the violence, but was also a cause for commemoration.

Over the past week, a constant streak of visitors has transformed July 1 memorial crime scene. Families brought their young children to mourn the knife, which fatally turned its weapon on him shortly after the attack. The student union at the prestigious Hong Kong University passed a motion saying they “appreciate his sacrifice.” And the man’s employer, beverage company Vitasoy, saw its stock drop 14.6%, its biggest drop since going public in 1994, after offering condolences to the attacker’s family. in a leaked internal memo. Online, some have called him a hero.

For them, the attacker died fighting an unelected regime that stifled dissent. Since Beijing imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong, a newspaper has been shut down, public protests appear to have been banned, and nearly all pro-democracy figures in the city, including activists and politicians, have been imprisoned or forced into exile.

The authorities responded to the memorials with fury. Carrie Lam, the city’s leader who was elected by only a few hundred people, urged the public to avoid inciting further “immoral acts”. Police guarded the stabbing site for several days, removing flowers from the makeshift memorial and called the attack “terrorism,” fueling authorities’ narrative that civil society is now threatened by random acts of crime. political violence.

The July 1 attack revealed that while protests and political opposition have been dulled, the anger that rocked Hong Kong in 2019 lingers on the anti-government camp – raising fears of further violence.

A muted vacation

The attack was particularly shocking for two reasons – both the choice of victim and the choice of the day.

During the first 20 years after Britain returned Hong Kong to mainland China, July 1 was a day of peaceful mass marches for democracy. This year, those protests have been banned, apparently under coronavirus restrictions, and a huge police presence has been deployed.

The victim was one of dozens of police stationed near a cordoned off street corner, which had been the starting point of previous mass pro-democracy marches, when his attacker took an item from his bag and l ‘plunged into him.

The policeman was rushed to hospital in critical condition.

Prior to the National Security Law, Hong Kong authorities granted licenses for the July 1 marches, a symbol of Hong Kong’s relatively high level of freedom compared to mainland China.

That changed after 2019. For months that year pro-democracy protests paralyzed parts of Hong Kong, sometimes leading to violent clashes between protesters and police. Many protesters saw the police response as brutal, fueling public distrust of the officers the democracy movement viewed as government agents.

And as the movement moved towards something more dangerous, Beijing’s tolerance for the protests in Hong Kong has run out.

When the coronavirus pandemic disrupted mass gatherings, Beijing quickly used a backdoor in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution to bypass the city’s independent legal system and pass a controversial national security law, which criminalized acts secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

With lines of peaceful protest blocked, thousands of people left the city, migrating to Western democracies providing safe haven, while hundreds became political refugees. For those who remain in Hong Kong, there are few legal ways to be heard.

The July 1 attack showed that while dissent had been silenced, it had not disappeared, said Joseph Cheng, a prominent Hong Kong political commentator who now lives in New Zealand. “The anger is obviously there,” he added.

Authorities have not disclosed the attacker’s motive. Police called him a lone domestic terrorist who was likely “radicalized by a myriad of false information.” According to local media outlet RTHK, the man was 50 years old, single and living with his parents.

Local media reported that a police psychologist’s report on the assailant’s mental state would be given to the coroner for a possible inquest. A psychology professor at a Hong Kong university, who asked not to be named for fear of backlash, cautioned against blaming the attack solely on mental health issues, saying such “Simplistic explanation” would not “adequately” decompress the situation.

One mourner, an education worker in her 20s, said she believed the perpetrator had “reached a point of desperation” after the 2019 protests.

“I wanted to be part of his remembrance to show that he was not alone,” she said. “There is no space for political expression. We have no market. We can’t take to the streets, we can’t sing songs with political implications because it’s illegal.

A “twisted pursuit of freedom”

The July 1 stabbing also represents another difficult reality: how the once-revered Hong Kong police have become a public enemy for some.

A survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute found that the police force collapsed during protests in 2019. In the latest survey in May, the police satisfaction rate rose to 44 out of 100, well below the peak of 67 recorded almost ten years ago.

Hong Kong police declined to comment for this story, but a 10-year force veteran who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak with the press said he was shocked and saddened by the attack.

The officer said it was a “twisted pursuit of freedom” inspired by “fake news,” including unsubstantiated allegations that police killed several protesters.

“In my job, I have to monitor social media activity. The number of fake accounts that occupy my main stream is overwhelming, ”he said. “Whatever your values ​​and however noble they are, there can be no tolerance for violence and extremist tactics. “

Mourners, he said, are “naive”. “Showing empathy towards the abuser is wrong,” he said. “How can you teach the next generation that this behavior is okay?” “

A former senior police official, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said officers “must be careful”.

“The man who committed suicide is a killer. Why do you see him as a hero? the 30-plus-year-old police veteran asked those who laid the flowers.

For the government and its supporters, the July 1 attacker is one of the “terrorists” who are beginning to appear as the latest threat to Hong Kong’s stability.

Fears for the future

Less than a week after the attack, the National Security Division of the Hong Kong Police said it discovered a plot linked to a pro-independence group to bomb train stations, courts and underground tunnels.

This was not the first suspected terrorist threat they discovered linked to the democracy movement. During the 2019 protests, police seized the largest cache of high-powered explosives ever found in the city.

When a 29-year-old man was sentenced earlier this year for the transport, the judge said he “was about to declare war” on the company, local South China Morning Post reported. Hong Kong is a city with few violent crime and few guarantees against terrorist attacks – there are no security checks on subways or shopping malls, for example.

In a polarized climate, some are skeptical of the reality of the terrorist threat. For many, the separation of powers between police and government is becoming blurred – the new security secretary, for example, was the former police commissioner.

Others believe there might be legitimate reasons to fear that copier attacks will ignite tensions that turn into a greater threat.

A user of LIHKG, a popular Reddit-style forum used by protesters in 2019, claimed to be planning a similar attack on a police officer. The more than 30-year-old police veteran said he was worried about copier attacks, especially if members of the public continued to offer what he called “prayers for a killer.”

The diminishing legal means of expressing dissent meant that it was possible that the lone wolves could resort to more extreme actions, said political expert Cheng. “You are leading a very, very small group of radicals to extreme action,” he said, calling on Lam to restore and regain people’s trust in the police force.

“Any sane government must recognize this buildup of anger and must try to reduce anger instead of just condemning acts of violence,” he said.

Whether Hong Kong people listen to their leader is another matter. A recent poll by the Hong Kong Independent Public Opinion Research Institute found that 70% of those polled would give Lam a vote of no confidence, and only 16% were happy with the government’s performance.

In the meantime, the police, who do not make the law but must enforce it, are at the forefront of public anger.

The psychology professor said the Hong Kong authorities have become an “easy target on which people can project all their frustration and disappointment, political or otherwise.”

“Hong Kong people still haven’t had the chance to collectively process or resolve what they went through (in 2019),” he said. “Covid-19 has served as a substantial distraction, and perhaps very effective, but ultimately a real healing has to take place. “

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CNN’s Jenni Marsh and Jessie Yeung contributed to this report How to Get Help: In Hong Kong, call +852 2896 0000 for Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for suicide prevention services. In the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact details for crisis centers around the world.

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