Thousands of protesters occupied Central in a rally against the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement yesterday. However, Now TV, Cable TV, TVB, Oriental Daily and the Economic Journal each discovered instances of demonstrators being paid up to HK$480 or offered freebies to attend.
Many attendees had been mobilised by ethnic groups, leftist organisations, pro-government political parties and even businesses.
Police said that 110,600 attended – more than their estimate for the July 1st pro-democracy march, which they put at 98,600. HKUPOP estimated that 79,000-88,000 attended whilst organisers claimed 193,000 took part. A single SocREC reporter conducted a nonstop headcount, estimating a turnout of 41,250.
Unlike the the annual July 1st democracy rallies, most of yesterday’s attendees were elderly and many spoke Putonghua. Some journalists spotted South Asian participants and foreign domestic workers rallying against the Occupy Central pro-democracy ‘sit-in’.
During the march, minor scuffles broke out between protesters and and pro-democracy activists leading to four arrests. One protester reportedly threw a tray of 24 eggs at a People Power member.
Politicians Regina Ip , Jeffrey Lam, Michael Tien, Elizabeth Quat, Cheung Chi-kong, and Cheng Yiu-tong all attended the rally, which was endorsed by Chief Executive CY Leung, and former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.
It was organised by Robert Chow’s Alliance for Peace and Democracy. When questioned about his predictions of violence at the unconfirmed Occupy Central protest, Chow said, “You can say there’s no violence, no rape until rape happens. What about stalkers?… It’s the possibility!”
Chow is also behind ‘Silent Majority’, another astro-turfing group known for their verbose condemnation of ‘violent’ Occupy Central and a viral video that predicted apocalyptic scenes should the sit-in go ahead.
In the video, the group warned that an occupation could prevent ambulances from responding to emergencies. Ironically, Sunday’s protest resulted in an ambulance being stuck in a traffic jam.
Reuters reported that a group of 150 people were mobilised by the Hong Kong Livestock Industry Association and given free transport. A Whatsapp message seen by the newswire showed that attendees were offered HK$350 to protest “for five hours“.
Meanwhile, an undercover iCable reporter found that the pro-government, anti-Falun Gong group Hong Kong Youth Care Association was paying protesters HK$250 to attend and bussed them in from Yuen Long.
After registering online, the journalist was told to meet before 10:30am and was handed the sum en route to the march.
Other news sources reported sums of HK$200, HK$250, HK$300, HK$380 and HK$480 changing hands.
The South China Morning Post’s Jeffie Lam complained that many protesters were unwilling to talk as 30 employees from the Ying Wah Construction Group refused all questions from reporters. Others seemingly had no idea why they were there whilst one believed it to be shopping trip. Meanwhile, photojournalist Alex Hofford reported that some tried to prevent him taking photos.
The Wall Street Journal’s ‘China Real Time’ blog reported that “One marcher, whose shirt identified her as a member of the “Hong Kong Qingxi of Dongguan Association”, seemed bewildered by Hong Kong’s subway. “It’s so clean! And there are seats!” she said to a fellow marcher. When asked why she opposed Occupy Central, she said she was going for a walk.”
Proving that there is such thing as a free lunch, the Hong Kong Hakka Association reserved entire floors of the King’s Cuisine and Choi Fuk Royal Banquet restaurants for attendees. The Hong Kong Hubei Fraternity and the An Kwei Clan reserved 30 tables at Cheers.
Journalist Yuen Chan spotted how the pro-government newspaper Wen Wei Po doctored a picture of the July 1st pro-democracy march on their front cover under a headline about the pro-Beijing protest.
Netizens also shared an image of a counter-protester’s performance art entitled ‘In the Face of Great Ignorance’.
The Occupy Central Twitter feed remained active during the rally, tweeting: “If the horrifying vision of HK manifested by anti-Occupy doesn’t make us fight harder for real democracy, something’s wrong with our side”.
As the demonstration came to a close, Apple Daily and netizens lamented the rubbish and flags left behind in Victoria Park and along the protest route. The New York Times reports that, during pro-democracy rallies, participants usually clear up debris voluntarily afterwards.