Photographers take pictures of caricatures of world leaders US President George W. Bush (L), French President Jacques Chirac (C) and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair (R) as they take part in an Oxfam demonstration against World Trade Organization (WTO) food subsides in Hong Kong. Thousands of anti-globalization activists marched through Hong Kong watched by a huge security operation aimed at preventing a repeat of violence that has rocked previous WTO meetings. (AFP/Peter Parks)
HONG KONG - After months of rumours that opponents of the World Trade
Organisation (WTO) will wreak havoc on the city, activists here say Hong Kong
authorities have launched a targeted campaign of harassment.
Trouble for activists could start right at Hong Kong airport, where
authorities have rolled out a red carpet for ministerial delegates and high
Among those taken aside for interrogation were French farmer and activist Jose
Bove, three Thai campaigners and four prominent Filipinos - - including leaders
of the country's left-wing political movement, its largest feminist organisation
and a prominent trade union leader.
"They started to ransack and go through my luggage," says Elisa Dita
Lupi of the Filipino Gabriella women's party. "They started separating
and listing down anti-WTO materials like leaflets and streamers and stickers
and for a while I thought they were going to confiscate them, but eventually
they relented and I got to gather my things."
Norma Binas, a leader of the Philippines May 1st Movement Labour Center,
said she was flagged for interrogation at passport control and then escorted
by 10 police officers with machine-guns to a special solitary interrogation
According to Binas, the interrogators almost immediately turned their attention
to her group's political activities. "I told them that I have come for
the workers workshops," she said. "So the police asked me if I had
an invitation and I told them that it's on the internet. Everyone is invited
maybe you can look for it."
Binas said she was interrogated for six hours: "They had a two-page questionnaire,
asking whether we are involved in anti-globalisation activities in our own country.
So I told them the situation of the workers in the Philippines -- protesting
is the least they can do when they're losing their livelihoods."
Eventually, all the activists detained at the airport were released, though
the Associated Press reports that French Trade Minister Christine Lagar had
to intervene to get Bove out of the airport.
Once activists arrive in the city, they are met by a gauntlet of security
measures. A force of 9,000 police has been deployed on round- the-clock foot
patrol around the convention centre where the week-long WTO ministerial will
In recent days, police have rigged wire mesh across pedestrian walkways, sewer
gates have been welded shut, truckloads of barricades have been put up, and
miles of 10-foot high linked water-filled crowd control barriers have been erected
along the perimetre of an exclusion zone around the convention centre.
There have also been raids at places where the activists are camping.
The Indonesian Migrant Workers' Association, which helped organise a peaceful
demonstration of thousands of domestic workers against the WTO on Dec 11, is
being visited several times each day by Hong Kong police.
"They say they're looking for illegals, but this is never something that
concerned them before," says one organiser who refused to give her name
for fear of deportation. "Everybody is worried right now. They're afraid.
What we're doing is not wrong, so why are the police doing things like that?"
The organiser says a van with five officers has been stationed nearly permanently
outside their office door.
"This is not reasonable," she said. "They say they just wanted
to check. But everything is peaceful so how come they came so many times. It
has been four or five times in a day. They don't have any reason."
Police fear that during the Dec. 13-18 ministerial, violence of the type that
marked earlier WTO meets in Seattle and Cancun, Mexico could erupt and seem
to be taking no chances.
Anti-WTO activists have planned a second major demonstration as the WTO meetings
begin Tuesday afternoon. The first of three scheduled major rallies was on Sunday.
Hong Kong Police have stepped up security measures across the territory.
In comments over the weekend, Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen
downplayed any allegations of police harassment.
"This is the first time ever in any WTO meeting that we actually have
NGOs inside the conference facilities side-by-side with the delegates,"
he told the South China Morning Post.
The NGOs he was speaking of are the relatively small group of more established
think tanks allowed inside the convention centre. "This is a demonstration
not only of the host but also the WTO (itself) attitude towards the exchange
of views," the chief executive added.
Still, the security steps have been stringent enough to catch the eye of the
human rights group Amnesty International.
In an open letter to Hong Kong security chief Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong, Amnesty's
Hong Kong chairwoman Si-si Liu Pui-san expressed concern that the police do
not treat the protests with "sensitivity and in line with international
human rights standards of freedom of expression, association, and assembly".