Hong Kong police fired tear gas and pepper spray at hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators who rallied on Sunday, May 24, to oppose the controversial security law proposed by China last week.
The proposed legislation — expected to ban treason, subversion and sedition — comes after Hong Kong was shaken last year by months of massive, often-violent protests, and repeated warnings from Beijing that it would not tolerate dissent.
Campaigners warned that the proposal could spell the end of the city’s treasured freedoms, prompting thousands to gather and chantslogans in the busy Causeway Bay and Wan Chai districts.
“People may be criminalised only for words they say or publish opposing the government,” 25-year-old protester Vincent told AFP.
“I think Hongkongers are very frustrated because we didn’t expect this to come so fast and so rough. But… we won’t be as naive as to believe that Beijing will simply sit back and do nothing. Things will only get worse here.”
Riot police were deployed after earlier warnings from authorities against unauthorised assembly and the city’s current coronavirus-linked law banning public gatherings of more than eight people.
The Sunday protest followed a similar pattern to many of last year’s demonstrations, with police firing tear gas and pepper spray, and protesters pushing back — some throwing objects such as umbrellas at the police.
The Hong Kong pro-democracy movement had previously fizzled as arrests mounted and, later, large gatherings were banned to stop the coronavirus.
More than 8,300 people have been arrested since the protests erupted last year. Around 200 were detained during small rallies at malls on Mother’s Day earlier this month.
Police had warned that they would “make arrests as appropriate”, and at least one pro-democracy campaigner was detained by police on Sunday at the start of the rally, AFP reporters said.
Hong Kong residents enjoy rights — including freedom of speech — unseen on the mainland as part of the agreement that saw the British colony handed back to China in 1997, and the city has its own legal system and trade status.
Fears had been growing for years that Beijing was chipping away at those freedoms and tightening its control on the city, and campaigners have described the new proposal as the most brazen move yet.
Of particular concern is a provision allowing Chinese security agents to operate in Hong Kong, and that they could launch a crackdown against those dissenting against the mainland’s Communist rulers.
A top pro-Beijing official, however, claimed on Saturday that mainland law enforcement would not operate in Hong Kong without “approval” from local authorities.
“I’m not worried about anybody being arrested by a police officer from the mainland and then taken back to China for investigation or punishment,” Maria Tam, a Hong Kong law advisor to the Chinese parliament, told AFP.
Hong Kong’s unpopular pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam has defended the new proposal, saying it was necessary to protect national security and punish “violent political elements”.
But there is deep mistrust of China’s opaque legal system in Hong Kong and of how Beijing might use such regulations in the city — the massive protests last year were sparked by a now-scrapped bill that would have allowed extraditions to the mainland. (Source: Bangkok Post)