Social unrest might have quieted down amid the outbreak of coronavirus, but those who have bled have to live with physical injuries for life.
By Chaelim Kim, Isaiah Hui
As Hong Kong has experienced prolonged protests related to the anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill (anti-ELAB) movement since June 2019, violent confrontations between police officers and protesters have made news headlines all over the world. Many shed blood and tears during the social movement, and some are suffering from serious physical injuries which affect them for the rest of their lives.
Raymond Yeung Tsz-chun, a liberal studies teacher at Diocesan Girls’ School, had his right eye and chest shot by an alleged police projectile during a rally in Admiralty on June 12 last year. Protesters gathered outside Legislative Council building in a bid to stop the second reading of the extradition bill.
My right eye only has 2.5 per cent of the normal vision. I underwent an operation and a painful yet ineffective face-down recovery last year as the macular hole is bigger than natural cases of degeneration.
Yeung is looking for evidence in order to launch a legal action against the Hong Kong Police Force. He has made an appeal in his Facebook account on January 2 and 18, asking for photos and videos near the intersection of Harcourt Road and Cotton Tree Drive outside the People Liberation Army’s Hong Kong headquarters during the protest.
Shot at the scene, Yeung felt shocked and overwhelmed. “I could not believe the police would fire suddenly as I was not doing anything offensive,” he recalls. “A protester nearby carried me away (after I was shot). I was interviewed by a citizen while a first aider was treating me. The aforementioned protester and I then hitched a ride to a hospital, where I was eventually located and arrested for rioting.”
Yeung reveals he received some hostile calls and messages on his Facebook account after he got injured. “I told the media that I did not hate the police officer who fired, as it is not my intention to let hatred take center stage. I just want to stay rational and have those who have violated the law punished.” He wrote on his Facebook on March 9, 2020.
And he feels fortunate that most of his family members and friends are on his side. “Some of them (Yeung’s family members and friends) think that the price I paid is too high when they first saw my injured eye. But the ever-escalating physical and institutional violence against the people from the authorities and the continuous sacrifices made by numerous citizens have shown us that this is everyone’s fight,” he adds.
“Police brutality is real. It could happen to you and me. It is also one of the greatest threats to human rights and democracy. It may seem less destructive than military oppression, but it may be even more harmful as it is often committed in the name of law enforcement,” says Yeung. “Some people and even judges would believe it as justifiable to a certain extent. It becomes the best weapon of a tyranny as it can be abused without much consequence.”
Tear gas, weapons like pepper spray, water cannon, bullets and batons are also used by the police in protests during the anti-extradition bill movement.
Jacob Chu, an 18-year-old high school student, is one of the protesters experiencing long-lasting impact from serious injuries caused by an alleged police attack.
Chu joined a human chain campaign in Tai Po on September 7, 2019, in support of the anti-extradition bill movement. As he was leaving from the peaceful protest, police stormed into Tai Po Market MTR station and made some arrests. Chu was seized by a police officer and beaten with baton. His head was wounded with heavy bleeding. He also suffered bone fracture on one of his fingers on the right hand.
“After being pressed to the ground, I shouted my name and school to people nearby. A police officer warned me not to play tricks before giving me first aid. I was frightened. My dad was angry, and my mom was worried about my head injuries. They came to the hospital immediately,” says Chu. A picture of him being pushed onto the ground with a pool of blood around his head was widely circulated online.
The 18-year-old was sent to Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital. Chu had two stitches on his scalp, and his doctor told him he was fortunate that he got no other serious problem. He was hospitalised for two weeks and underwent physiotherapy and had to attend psychiatric consultation for three months. Chu says he still feels traumatised.
This kind of feeling comes all of a sudden. It is painful every time I walk past Tai Po Market MTR station. I feel dizzy and I want to vomit. Though I guess it’s much better now, I still have nightmares.
“In Hong Kong, no one is holding the police to account. You can’t charge them as they wear masks and do not show their work identity cards when they are on duty. IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Council) is useless. I feel hopeless and frustrated,” says Chu.
The injuries make it difficult for him to write and affect his preparation for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination this year. He now decides not to sit for the examination and considers leaving Hong Kong to continue his studies overseas and for better mental health.
A doctor who works in a public hospital and addresses himself as Dr K, says he encounters many patients with head injuries, which often lead to open wounds like scalp lacerations (head wounds).
Dr. K is also a volunteer first aider in protests related to the movement. He says that many injured protesters are reluctant to seek medical treatment: “They worry that they might be located by police officers in emergency rooms at public hospitals,” the doctor who also coordinates first aid teams on the frontline says.
Dr. K had to deal with many patients with serious injuries while serving on the frontline. “A person was shot by bean bag rounds in the head, causing deep laceration and fragment of foreign body embedded in wound, with subsequent infection,” says Dr. K. He says wounds from rubber bullets and bean bag rounds are quite frequent in protest sites. “They very often cause open wounds like scalp lacerations,” he says.
Tear gas and pepper spray were frequently used in protests sites too. “It is very likely to cause eye and skin irritation,” says Dr. K. “Shot wounds by rubber bullets and bean bag rounds are also common injuries. They can be severe if involving face and orbit.”
You can only reach out to patients and realize the fragility of life when offering them treatment in the frontline.
He adds that even though many patients suffer from a series of illnesses, they show dignity in fighting for what they believe in.
Mark, a medical student studying at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who declines to reveal his identity, says he cannot turn a blind eye to the force used against protestors so he joins the first aid team with Dr. K.
“I have been risking myself on the frontline because I knew that the government would not treat protesters with minimal force,” says Mark, adding that he knew excessive force would be used because he witnessed much tear gas used during the Umbrella Movement in 2014.
Mark says he felt heartbroken while helping the injured. “I had to deal with many severe cases of injuries. I remember a boy who was shot in the face by a tear gas bullet. He couldn’t even open his eyes nor take off his contact lenses. And his forehead kept bleeding,” he says.
Edited by Wayne Chang
Sub-edited by Emilie Lui