1 of 2 | Protesters who were trapped inside Hong Kong Polytechnic University during a police siege that started last weekend described chaos and fear that swept through the campus. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
HONG KONG, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- As the siege that turned Hong Kong Polytechnic University into a warzone dwindles to a few remaining holdouts, protesters trapped on the campus for days described scenes of chaos, violence and fear but vowed that the protest movement would continue.
UPI met with a pair of protesters on Saturday who had been on the Poly U campus and who spoke on condition of anonymity.
One protester, going by the initial K., said that many on the campus felt cornered and increasingly panicked as a days-long standoff with police escalated last Sunday into a violent pitched battle.
Riot police attempted to storm the university using tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons while protesters resisted with Molotov cocktails, slingshots and bows and arrows. Authorities warned that anyone who remained on campus would be charged with rioting, which carries a potential ten-year prison sentence.
"Around that time the situation started getting chaotic," said K. "That was when we started feeling terrified. We were surrounded and we could see people getting arrested as they tried to leave. Many of us started thinking about escape routes."
"We felt that the police were giving us no choice," said the other protester, who used the initial A.
Some protesters managed to make daring escapes by crawling through sewers and abseiling from a bridge onto a highway below.
But many who tried to get away through sewers got lost or trapped in the dark and narrow crawlspaces under the campus, said K., and had to turn back as scenes of shocking violence tore through the campus.
"I saw children getting hit in the eye and in the head with rubber bullets and bean bag rounds," K. said. "I saw pools of blood on the ground and wondered if I was going to be injured next."
Local hospitals treated around 300 protesters, according to a statement from the Hong Kong Hospital Authority on Tuesday, including students who suffered from hypothermia after being doused with water cannons.
After police surrounded the campus and cut off supply lines, K. and A. said that the situation became increasingly desperate as rations quickly began running low and food started to spoil in the student canteen.
By Tuesday evening most of the protesters had left the campus by escaping or surrendering to police, who reported 1,100 arrests on Monday, the highest total in the nearly six months of civil unrest that has rocked Hong Kong.
Among the arrests at Polytechnic University were dozens of medics and first aid personnel, a move that a Hong Kong surgeon who was a volunteer at the campus blasted as "chilling" in the British medical journal The Lancet on Thursday.
"The actions of the Hong Kong Police Force have fallen far below accepted international norms for the handling of volunteer emergency medical providers," the surgeon, Darren Mann, wrote. "The arrest of these personnel is almost unheard of in civilized countries and is incompatible with the compact of humanitarianism."
It is unclear how many protesters remain on the Poly U campus, but by most accounts their numbers are in the dozens. Hong Kong police chief Chris Tang said on Friday that the police "do not have any deadline" for clearing the holdouts.
In a statement released Saturday evening, the Hong Kong Police said "a number of rioters" remained on the campus, some of whom are underage and would not face arrest at the scene.
"Police appeal to all staying in the campus to leave in a peaceful manner and pledge to bring offenders to justice in a fair manner," the statement said.
Protests in Hong Kong have been muted in the days since the campus violence as Hong Kong prepares to head to the polls Sunday in politically charged local elections that many view as a referendum on the pro-democracy movement.
And while the protesters who were trapped on the Poly U campus say the experience left them deeply shaken, both said that it would only serve to galvanize the movement going forward.
"I cannot see an end in sight [to the protests]," said A. "Things are only going to escalate. This will only lead to people standing up even more."
"In Poly U we gave up so much, we have had so many casualties," said K. "We simply can't go back. All the protesters who have been arrested and maybe given their lives -- for their sakes we have to right this injustice."