Clashes between protesters and police on Sunday left 22 people hospitalised, with two people in a critical condition and four in a serious condition, according to the Hospital Authority.

Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo condemned protesters’ actions, which he said were responsible for the chaotic scenes in Sha Tin. He said 10 police officers were injured, one of whom had a section of his finger bitten off.

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Police Commissioner Stephen Lo met reporters on July 15. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Lo also defended the decision to send riot police into the New Town Plaza shopping mall, where the force deployed pepper spray. Critics said the move escalated tensions on Sunday evening as demonstrators found themselves trapped.

“As officers moved close to a shopping centre, someone threw bricks and other solid objects at officers from above. To stop it, we needed to go up to the podium level of the mall, which led to the later events,” Lo told reporters after visiting the injured officers at Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital.

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A protester gestures as a policeman looks on inside a shopping arcade in Sha Tin of Hong Kong after a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Sha Tin district of Hong Kong on July 14, 2019. Photo: Philip Fong/AFP.

“If we find some illegal activities, and those responsible went into a mall, shouldn’t we also follow them in and make arrests?”

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Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

The clashes took place after thousands of anti-extradition law protesters marched peacefully, calling for the controversial bill to be completely scrapped.

Police initially said they arrested 20 men and 17 women, though Lo later upped the number to “at least 40.” Those arrested were suspected of unlawful assembly and assaulting police officers, he added.

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Lo said that the police will fully investigate the incident and hold lawbreakers accountable.

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“The thugs acted like they had lost their senses, when an officer fell down, they continued to kick and beat him,” he said.

“Our colleagues faced a lot of pressure, and our efforts have only been met with blame from many sides.”

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On Monday, pro-democracy lawmakers issued a joint statement which criticised the police for “deliberately provoking conflict between protesters and police,” adding that the clearance operation in New Town Plaza may be unlawful since officers entered private property without permission.

Officers used a containment strategy against protesters, which could have involved false imprisonment of the people inside the mall, read the statement signed by 24 lawmakers.

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“We strongly condemn these actions by the police which disrupt social harmony, and demand that the commissioner of police publicly explain and discipline the relevant commanders and officers, and apologise to affected businesses and members of the public,” the statement added.

In a statement, pro-democracy group Demosisto said that two of its members, Calvin Chu and William Liu, were arrested on unlawful assembly charges. Police officers hit the two men in their back and head while they were trying to leave peacefully, the group said.

Chu’s wrist was “bent 180 degrees” as he was restrained, and Liu was “kicked in the side of his mouth” and shoved against the kerb, Demosisto added.

Demosisto member Joshua Wong has called for the duo’s release, and the group has condemned “police brutality and abuse of power.”

The Civil Human Rights Front also issued a statement saying that Chief Executive Carrie Lam was to blame for the injuries resulting from clashes over the weekend.

“If the government really wants to protect frontline police officers, and does not want to see more civilians hurt in protest activities, then it should respond to the public’s demands more proactively.”

News station ‘attacked’

Separately, broadcaster TVB said that protesters in Sha Tin attacked a photographer and a reporter during the afternoon march. The reporter was kicked in the leg and the photographer was hit in the back, and both were only able to leave with the help of other journalists, TVB said.

The news station said it had already reported the incident to police, and condemned it as an attack on press freedom.

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A TVB van window was smashed on Sunday. Photo: TVB screenshot.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association also issued a statement condemning those who assaulted the two TVB staff members.

Later in the night, TVB reported that two of their vans had their windows broken, and the station’s logo was defaced with spray paint.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.