Thousands of Hongkongers gathered in Central on Friday evening to demand the authorities halt the widespread use of tear gas in the densely populated city.
Around 20,000 people attended the rally at Edinburgh Place, according to organisers. Demonstrators displayed placards saying “Stop tear gas” and held up their mobile phone flashlights as they chanted their demands.
The crowd shouted slogans such as “City of tear, people in fear” and “Respond to our demand, disclose the composition of the tear gas.”
A spokesperson for the movement’s Citizens’ Press Conference said that around 15 percent of 18,000 people surveyed online reported having experienced diarrhoea or stomachache after contact with tear gas. Meanwhile, 18 to 23 percent of those surveyed said they had suffered from respiratory, eye and skin issues following tear gas exposure.
“Everyone knows that the residue [of the tear gas] will not be dissolved shortly; instead, they are going to affect generations to come,” the spokesperson claimed.
“Facing the Hong Kong puppet government’s blatant attempt to terrify and crush us with brutality and toxic gas, the Citizens’ Press Conference [urges] the governments and authorities around the world to identify this as a humanitarian crisis, and [they] should impose sanctions [on] all those who are harming us politically and physically,” he added.
The police force have fired around 10,000 rounds of tear gas since June, prompting public health concerns. Last month, a Stand News reporter who has frequently covered the protest frontlines said that he had been diagnosed with chloracne, a skin condition that has been linked directly to exposure to dioxin-like substances. He suspected that it might be linked to his frequent contact with tear gas.
Dioxins in tear gas can cause cancer, reproduction and developmental problems, according to the World Health Organisations. They are highly toxic and can also interfere with hormones and the immune system. However, welfare chief Law Chi-kwong told the legislature on Wednesday that “those who were exposed to tear gas generally experienced mild respiratory and skin irritation, and there was also no serious health impact reported.”
Meanwhile, the police force and Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing blamed harmful pollution on the burning of garbage and barricades by protesters.
The Hong Kong authorities have come under fire for refusing to disclose details on the ingredients of tear gas. The police have said that the information is deemed sensitive as it concerns the force’s operations.
During Friday’s rally, a spokesperson for the citizen-led Public Health Research Collaborative warned of a public health crisis if the authorities continue to use tear gas while refusing to be transparent.
Photo: Kaiser/USP United Social Press.
“There are no ways of finding out what kind of toxic chemicals are being released by tear gas, so it is difficult to tell people how to clean up or protect themselves,” the spokesperson said.
“Hong Kong is now of great interest to researchers because there is no other place on earth where the use of tear gas is so concentrated and constant, and takes place in an area with such a high population density,” she added. “As a Hongkonger, I am very worried and sad about this.”
There have also been numerous reports of animals such as birds and cats being found dead in areas where tear gas had been fired.
Grace Cheng, a veterinarian, shared tips in a recorded video on how to take care of pets affected by the chemical. She urged the authorities to consider beyond the health impacts on humans.
“There are living creatures other than humans, such as birds, stray animals and pets. We all share the same ecosystem and we should respect each other,” she said. “We should cherish the natural environment, not fire tear gas non-stop, destroying nature and contaminating our future generations or other living things.”
The rally ended peacefully at around 9pm. Some rallygoers urged others to participate in a march organised by the Civil Human Rights Front that will begin at Victoria Park at 3pm this Sunday.
Secondary school students’ rally
Meanwhile, a smaller protest also took place on Friday evening. Dozens of students from more than ten secondary schools gathered in Kwai Ching in support of the protest movement.
Dressed in school uniform, they called on Hongkongers to continue protesting and speaking up against alleged police brutality. A demonstrator told Stand News that he was worried about the apparent decline in participation among nonviolent protesters recently.
Next Monday marks the six-month anniversary of Hong Kong’s largest protest movement since the million-strong march that took place on June 9. The protests were triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill which would have enabled fugitive transfers to mainland China. The movement has since morphed into calls for democratic reform and accountability for the police handling of the crisis.
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