Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, Hong Kong's No 2 official, revealed on Thursday that nearly a third of anti-government protesters arrested over four months of civil unrest were under the age of 18, calling it "shocking" and "heartbreaking".
He also insisted the government was not trying to wipe out protests altogether with its controversial anti-mask law, and no further measures were forthcoming in Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s policy address next Wednesday.
“We have no further intention, particularly in the context of the policy address, of devising new measures to clamp down on protests,” he said.
“We never clamp down on protests. We only clamp down on violence. Protest is allowed if it’s legal, if it’s lawful, if it’s peaceful … it’s part of our core values.”
Among the 2,379 arrested so far since the protests were sparked in June by the government’s now-withdrawn extradition bill, 750 were aged below 18 years, and 104 of them were under 16, accounting for about 4.4 per cent.
Officials also gave an account by numbers of the damage and destruction caused by radicals on the front lines of the protests, revealing they had dismantled 42km (26 miles) – about the standard distance of a marathon race – of roadside railings, dug up 2,600 square metres (28,000 square feet) of brick-paved pedestrian pavements, and smashed around a fifth of traffic lights across the city.
Angry protesters targeting the city’s metro system damaged or destroyed 2,400 ticketing machines and turnstiles, and smashed 900 CCTV cameras at 83 out of 94 MTR stations.
“I appeal to every one of us here to help promulgate to everyone in Hong Kong not to strike down our MTR system – it’s our system, it’s our pride and our need,” transport minister Frank Chan Fan said.
Cheung said the chief executive’s policy blueprint would focus on livelihood issues, such as housing and poverty alleviation, which had been identified as deep-seated problems causing public discontent.