Hong Kong’s university blockaders fall but the movement lives on

Disheveled, sometimes defiant, but always in handcuffs, the protesters from inside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University siege were taken away in police trucks after giving themselves up.

They shouted their names to human rights groups gathered to record their arrests. Lawyers and family members, anxious for news, would be messaged straight away.

I had just arrived from the UK and had to wait hours on the outside of the vast police cordon surrounding the university campus to get inside.

Hong Kong - Polytechnic University. Pic: Dan Morgan
Image: Protesters barricaded themselves inside the university campus. Pic: Dan Morgan

The arm twisting of media officers by Sky News producers is painful to watch but often successful. It just takes time.

As night fell we were taken through the streets to the university campus. As I left the last barricade I asked the police who would show me around.

“You are on your own, good luck,” one officer said.

“Nothing is going to end well for those inside.”

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He waved me goodbye.

The roads outside were a debris field of burnt out cars and barriers, smashed bricks and broken glass.

Hong Kong - Polytechnic University. Pic: Dan Morgan
Image: The roads outside the university are a debris field. Pic: Dan Morgan

I climbed the steep steps to the main entrance atrium of the university surrounded by smouldering debris.

The students and pro-democracy demonstrators had barricaded themselves in for a long hold-out. In truth it was short-lived.

After days of pandemonium and noise it was now eerily quiet. There were no police inside, everything seemed to be destroyed.

I was greeted by tables of Molotov cocktails that hadn’t been thrown.

The rest of the atrium was a mess of broken windows, discarded clothes, graffiti and rubbish.

Inside, small groups of protesters wandered around. They didn’t want to be filmed and lifted their sweaters, bandanas and face masks as they passed us.

Only the hardiest and those too scared to leave had stayed behind.

They seemed to be looking for a way out but slowly they were realising it was pointless.

Hong Kong - Polytechnic University. Pic: Dan Morgan
Image: The college campus itself became a target of the protest. Pic: Dan Morgan

I spoke to one youngster who called himself Tom.

He was waiting for his lawyer to come and take him out.

He accepts that he faces 10 years in prison for rioting.

“The protest goes on,” he told me.

“It was worth it. But what happened was worse than I expected.”

In truth this hasn’t ended that badly. The university is trashed, but many of my colleagues who covered the days before I arrived say that at one stage it seemed likely that the siege was not just going to end badly, but with multiple deaths.

There has been a huge amount of damage.

As the police neared, as the protesters set the barricades on fire, the college campus itself became a target of the protest.

Rooms, plate glass windows and shops have been destroyed.

Incredibly, despite everything being lost, there is still a hardcore group who believe they can evade capture and live to fight another day.

Anti-government protesters are silhouetted at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) during a fire in Hong Kong, China, November 18, 2019
Image: Some protesters remain at the university but they have little food or water

Between 50 and 100 have hidden themselves. With little food and water I give them 24 hours.

On the outer edges of the campus the police cordon is tightening. In the dark any movement is quickly tracked by officers with powerful torches.

Inside specialist fire and rescue officers combed the halls for people still inside.

Medics and negotiators looked after those who realised that they had no choice but to give themselves up.

Some of the injured were treated in the damaged compound.

Others, some suffering from hypothermia, were gathered together, their golden foil blankets in stark contrast to the broken campus around them.

They, like over a thousand before them, were led away through the broken barricades, handed over to the police and taken away.

The protest movement in Hong Kong goes on, of course – just not in the Polytechnic University any more.

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