Hong Kong protesters use new flashmob strategy to avoid arrest

‘Blossom everywhere’ tactic is a reaction to politicisation of MTR subway system

Hong Kong protesters have deployed a new strategy of popping up in small groups in multiple locations across the city in an effort to avoid arrest, during their ongoing campaign against police and the local government.

Small flashmobs of protesters demonstrated across a dozen districts after a call for protesters to “blossom everywhere” on Sunday, with many staying closer to home where they could evade police on foot or by bus.

As teargas was fired against protesters in Shatin and Tsuen Wan districts, 11km (7 miles) apart, demonstrators elsewhere could be seen chanting together inside local malls or vandalising stores with links to pro-government tycoons.

The fragmented strategy is in part a response to the politicisation of the city’s MTR subway system, which has remained only semi-functioning since 4 October when chief executive Carrie Lam invoked emergency powers to ban masks at demonstrations.

As thousands of residents took to the streets on the night of 4 October, the MTR corporation closed the city’s entire subway line with services suspended for much of the subsequent weekend in an unofficial curfew.

Dozens of stations remained closed on the following days because of vandalism while city-wide service has remained limited for the past week, closing hours earlier than normal, with unscheduled station closures in response to demonstrations.

The subway once played a vital link allowing protesters to quickly avoid police and cross Hong Kong harbour in their protest strategy known as “be water” – a play on a saying by Hong Kong-American actor Bruce Lee on how to evade one’s enemies.

The tactic has become a liability for protesters as riot police have been stationed near the main subway exits on protest days as well as at ferry terminals and other transit points.

“Since October, the police are stopping all kinds of people [at the subway],” said Anna, 21, a masked protester who was part of a small unit of demonstrators in Mong Kok shopping district playing cat-and-mouse with half a dozen riot police vehicles.

“We are Pien Dei Hoi Fa [blossoming everywhere],” she said, while behind her a group of fellow protesters smashed up a traffic light.

Crystal, another 21-year-old protester, said: “The police do not allow us to have a big group of people gathering together. They block all the MTR stations, where the police have arrested [us] many times. The police also stop and search at the MTR stations.” She wore a mask, cap and sunglasses to disguise her identity during the demonstration.

She said: “People they just stay around this area. When something happens they can still go home at night without being searched in the tunnel.”

Throughout Sunday small groups of protesters would spray many of these locations with graffiti, often smashing windows and doors, before quickly running away as police sirens blared.

While vandalism was rife, petrol bombs were only seen in one district by Sunday evening while firelit barricades were also few in number. Once unthinkable on the streets of Hong Kong, such tactics have become the norm as protests push into their fifth month.

Police arrested dozens of people on Sunday, including bystanders heckling officers.

Demonstrations began in early June against a legislative bill that would have allowed residents to be extradited to stand trial in mainland China. They have since evolved into a citywide movement against both the government and Beijing, with calls for democratic elections as well as a commission to investigate police violence.


Erin Hale in Hong Kong

The GuardianTramp

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