Hong Kong police have defended officers’ decision to draw their guns in Tsuen Wan on Sunday, adding that it was a “natural reaction” for one officer to kick a kneeling, unarmed man when faced with life-threatening circumstances.

Sunday’s clashes saw live ammunition fired for the first time in the city’s 12 weeks of protests. Officers clashed with protesters on Sha Tsui Road in Tsuen Wan at around 8pm, following a march in the afternoon.

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Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“Six officers drew their service weapons because their lives were under threat… to protect themselves, other officers and people at the scene. One officer fired a warning shot into the air, which did not hit anyone,” said Senior Superintendent Yolanda Yu of the Police Public Relations Branch.

“The officer acted heroically and with restraint, and the force used under the circumstances was necessary and reasonable,” she added.

During the police dispersal operation on Sha Tsui Street, a middle-aged man in a grey tank top knelt on the ground and urged officers not to shoot. He was then kicked by an advancing officer who was pointing his gun at the crowd.

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Senior Superintendent Yolanda Yu. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“This was a natural reaction,” Yu said, adding that it was difficult for police officers to distinguish between violent and non-violent protesters.

During Sunday’s clashes, police arrested 29 men and seven women, aged 12 to 48.

Fifteen officers were injured and hospitalised, police said. As of Monday morning, the Hospital Authority reported that 38 people were hospitalised from Sunday’s events, with one patient in serious condition and 17 in stable condition.

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A police officer drew his gun on protesters in Tsuen Wan.

Protesters on Sunday afternoon marched from Kwai Chung to Tsuen Wan amid heavy rain, following a route sanctioned by police. After the march ended, some protesters clashed with riot police on Yeung Uk Road near the neighbourhood wet market.

Protesters threw bricks and Molotov cocktails, and police fired multiple volleys of tear gas over the course of the afternoon. The force also deployed two of their water cannon trucks for the first time, which were used against retreating protesters later in the day.

Violence flared again in the evening after the bulk of the protesters dispersed, when some returned to Yi Pei Square in Tsuen Wan. They were seeking retribution for a group of suspected gang members responsible for the August 5 knife attack, and vandalised a number of shops believed to be backed by triads, Apple Daily reported.

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Photo: May James/HKFP.

According to RTHK, one officer dropped his gun during the retreat on Sha Tsui Road. The firearm was picked up by an officer later. Senior Superintendent Yu declined to comment on the incident.

Separately, some protesters reportedly took down a Chinese national flag at the Kwai Chung Sports Ground, which was the starting point of the rally.

In a statement, the Hong Kong government said that the protesters “trampled” on the national flag, and the act “[challenged] the national authority and allegedly violates the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance.”

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Photo: May James/HKFP.

Both the government spokesperson and Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo condemned the violence on Sunday.

“The escalating illegal and violent acts of radical protesters are not only outrageous, they also push Hong Kong to the verge of a very dangerous situation,” the government spokesperson said, adding that protesters had “wantonly attacked” police officers.

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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.