About 360 people were arrested by the Hong Kong police in another day of protests by pro-democracy activists denouncing a controversial legislation aimed to further tighten Beijing’s grip on the territory.
Police fired pepper-spray bullets into lunchtime crowds on Wednesday, May 27, as people shouted slogans: “Hong Kong independence, it’s the only way.”
The protests have been given a fresh urgency after Beijing announced last week of its plans to force a sweeping anti-sedition law on Hong Kong, where similar legislation was shelved after it caused mass protests in 2003.
The National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, is expected to approve the plan on Thursday, bypassing Hong Kong’s own legislature.
Officers stopped and searched residents, including students, and rounded up suspected protesters, forcing them to sit in rows on the ground.
Protesters occupied the roads in Mongkok into the night after a day of protests and clashes. Police said that as of 9.30pm, over 360 people had been arrested for offences including unauthorised assembly and possession of objects such as petrol bombs.
Earlier in the day, police in riot gear stopped and searched mainly young people outside Hong Kong’s MTR railway stations during morning rush hour and lined walkways as commuters shuffled past, prompting accusations on social media that the city had become “a police state”.
Thousands of armed police had flooded the streets around the Legislative Council building (LegCo) to stop the planned demonstrations aimed at halting a law criminalising ridicule of China’s national anthem.
Protest organisers on social media urged people to “be water” and keep moving throughout the city, but acknowledged it would be difficult to stop the anthem debate without high risk of arrest. “But you can at least make a statement,” said one post.
Crowds regrouped from lunchtime. Schoolchildren were among those detained in Mongkok, while at least 180 were arrested in Causeway Bay for an unauthorised gatherings.
Police accused protesters of setting fire to debris and throwing objects at officers. “Police had no other option and needed to employ minimal force, including pepper balls to prevent the relevant illegal and violent behaviour,” the force said.
Crowds led by the former legislator Leung Kwok-hung gathered at Admiralty station, near LegCo, were told by police to leave or they would be prosecuted. Protesters shouted back at police to “be Hongkongers”. “Of course I need to make my voice heard. They’re forcing this upon us and we can’t fight against them,” said Mrs Lam, 74.
Several days have been set aside in the Hong Kong legislature for debate on the anthem law and the vote is scheduled for 4 June – the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and another source of controversy given Hong Kong’s vigil this year will not be allowed.
Opponents say the anthem law could be weaponised against pro-democracy activists and legislators since “intent to insult” the anthem, such as by changing lyrics or music or singing in a “disrespectful way”, carries financial penalties and jail of up to three years.
Booing of the March of the Volunteers, the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China, as well as Hong Kong and Macau, at Hong Kong football marches has previously embarrassed Beijing. (Source: The Guardian)