- Published on Tuesday, 14 February 2006 07:00
During the 6th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference that was held in Hong Kong from December 13 to 18, 2005, thousands of participants representing trade unions and labor rights groups, peasant’s, civil society, migrant rights, and women’s organizations, and social movement organizations participated in a series of peaceful protests, rallies, and other actions to protest the WTO and its impact on workers, farmers, and people all around the world, specifically in developing countries.
On the eve of the conclusion of the WTO Ministerial meetings (December 17), these groups realized that despite their many efforts, to express their concerns and have their voices heard, the so-called representatives of the people continuously refused to listen. Government officials and trade analysts had cloistered themselves in the convention center pushing forward to achieve some sort of consensus and finalize an agreement that would once again clearly favor developed countries, fail to alleviate poverty, and further increase the gap between the rich and poor.
As they attempted to make their way to the convention center, they were forcibly blocked by the Hong Kong police but knowing that this could be their last chance, the participants decided to move forward. Although the Hong Kong police attempted to disburse the crowd, the participants were desperate to enter the convention site. They became increasingly frustrated by the efforts of the Hong Kong police to stop and silence them and as a result a confrontation ensued between the participants and the Hong Kong police.
Hong Kong Police Violations Against Demonstrators
During this confrontation the police used excessive force, pepper spray, tear gas, and more importantly anti-riot beanbags (rubber bullets) to stop the participants. It was recently revealed that the Hong Kong police had never used beanbags bullets on demonstrators in Hong Kong and it is only intended to be used against rioters. It should be noted that the participant in no way started a riot nor was it their intention to do so. The intentions of their actions were peacefully motivated and thus, the response of the police in no way warranted such drastic actions. As consequence many were injured during the confrontation.
Little past midnight on December 18, the Hong Kong police surrounded the protestors refusing to let anyone to either enter or leave the cordoned area. Starting at 2:30 am, the police declared that everyone was participating and an “unlawful assembly” and began to systematically more than 1,300 participants. Since the police did not have sufficient vans to transfer the participants, it took them over ten hours to arrest everyone and incarcerate them in 14 detention centers across Hong Kong.
During the arresting and detention process a number were beaten by the police, hundreds were forced to be handcuffed in plastic cable wires behind their backs for more than three hours waiting to be process by the police at the detention centers, and in certain cases, in the early stages of the detention women were strip searched. For more than 48 hours---the legal time frame for the Hong Kong police to either charge those arrested or release them---many participants, in some cases 20 people, were forcibly cramped into 3 x 3 cells with no blanket to cover the cold cement floors.
14 WTO Political Prisoners
In the end, the Hong Kong government released all of the participants except 14 individuals who they deemed to be the ringleaders and thus responsible for damages to public property and injuries suffered by the Hong Kong police. Of the fourteen arrested, nine are South Korean farmers, two are members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), one is a homeless rights activist in Japan, and one is a Taiwanese student. Although the 14 WTO Political Prisoners are out on bail, twelve of the defendants (eleven Korean and one Japanese) are currently living in a charge due to the generosity of the Hong Kong Catholic Bishop, awaiting their trial. It should be noted that this is the first time that foreign nationals have been charged and undergoing a formal trail procedure for participating in actions against the WTO.
Hunger Strike Launched by the WTO Political Prisoners
12 of the 14 WTO Political Prisoners have decided to launch an indefinite hunger strike starting January 5 to not only highlight the injustice of their case but more importantly highlight the reason for them coming to Hong Kong---to protest against the WTO. Their fight was not with the people of Hong Kong but with the undemocratic institution of the WTO and the free trade policies implement by the WTO without any real consultation with workers and farmers.
Call for Action
We are calling for the international community to express your outrage to the Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong police by calling for the immediate release of the 14 WTO political prisoners. We are asking individuals and organizations to participate in a variety of activities that we are launching in conjunction with the Hunger Strike by the WTO Political Prisoners.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. International Support Letter Writing Campaign
2. Coordinate an International Day of Action
We are calling for interested organizations and individuals to coordinate a protest rally in front of the Chinese Embassy on Monday, January 9, 2006 at 12:00 pm. In addition to the rally, we urge people to meet with embassy officials calling for the immediate release of the 14 WTO Political Prisoners
3. Participate in an Internal Solidarity Mission to Hong Kong.
We are coordinating an international delegation consisting of key leaders from trade unions, human rights groups, civil society organizations, peasant’s groups, and other social movements to participate in a solidarity mission to Hong Kong. The program will start with a local rally coordinated by Hong Kong support groups on January 8, participating in the international day of action and press conference on January 9, visiting key members within the Hong Kong government and the prosecution on January 10 and ending with observing the pre-trial hearing scheduled for January 11.
For more information about the International Solidarity Mission, please contact Elizabeth Teng of the HKCTU at 852-9091-9088 and Jin Sook Lee of the KCTU at 852-6733-8395
4. Solidarity Hunger Strike
We are calling for individuals and organizations to conduct a solidarity hunger strike for either one meal or one day anytime between January 5 to 11, 2006.