Hong Kong medical workers on Friday expressed outrage over the arrests this week of a number of colleagues at a university campus occupied by pro-democracy protesters, and called on the government to allow them to do their jobs.
Darren Mann, a city doctor, said that he and other medical workers had volunteered Sunday to treat injuries at the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), which saw fiery clashes between police and pro-democracy protesters.
When police that night declared that anyone on the campus was subject to arrest for rioting, those detained included teams of medical workers — even though many wore vests clearly identifying themselves as first-aid personnel.
“If you saw ambulancemen, kneeling with their hands behind their back, and zip-ties around their wrists, you would be rightfully outraged,” Mann told a press conference.
Mann said the protest satisfied all international criteria for “a mass casualty incident”, with victims suffering injuries such as choking from tear gas, burns, broken bones, and rubber-bullet wounds.
“These are the injuries of warfare. Why was it being managed there? Because that’s where the injuries occurred,” Mann said.
“Usually you don’t want your first-aid providers to leave. In our proud tradition, we are the last people to leave.”
It was unclear how many medical workers were detained on rioting allegations, but police said they had arrested 51 people at the campus who had claimed to be medics or reporters.
Around 700 people in total were arrested at PolyU.
The university remained under siege on Friday, with a dwindling cohort of perhaps dozens of holdouts still hiding in university buildings.
A registered nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP he had led a team of eight volunteers, but was arrested after complying with a police order to leave Tuesday night.
“I followed the police instructions to leave the campus, but I didn’t know that they will go back on their word and arrest us,” said the 30-year-old, who is out on bail.
He and around ten other volunteers were forced to kneel on the ground while their hands were zip-tied.
His hands remained restrained the entire night, leaving bruises on his wrists, and police accused him and others of being “fake paramedics”.
“I felt very helpless and angry. I did not do anything illegal,” he said.
Hong Kong’s months of protest began with a now-shelved bill to allow extraditions to mainland China, which revived fears that Beijing was slicing into the city’s freedoms.
Millions of angry citizens have taken to the streets in giant marches, and protesters have repeatedly clashed with police in a movement that has widened to include calls for democracy and an inquiry into alleged police brutality.
Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed leaders have rebuffed the demands.