Riot police pointed a pistol at protesters during a Uighur solidarity demonstration in Central on Sunday.
Officers clashed with onlookers after arresting a protester who removed a Chinese national flag outside City Hall. Police also reportedly fired at least two rubber bullets on a nearby footbridge connected to the IFC shopping mall.
On Sunday afternoon, around 1,000 people gathered at Edinburgh Place to express support for Uighurs in Xinjiang. International rights groups have estimated that at least a million from the Muslim minority have been detained in “re-education camps.”
At around 5pm, a protester removed a Chinese flag from a flagpole next to the rally location.
Riot police arrived and subdued several protesters and beat them with batons. Other protesters threw objects including plastic bottles at police, and officers responded with batons and pepper spray.
During the confrontation, an officer pointed a service pistol at protesters but did not fire.
Police at one point raised the black warning flag, indicating that tear gas may be used.
Rally organisers declared the event to be over, and most protesters left Edinburgh Place while police continued to stand guard in the area.
Shortly after the initial clash, officers fired at least two rubber bullets at a footbridge connected to the IFC shopping mall. A passerby was reportedly hit in the leg by the projectile, according to Stand News.
Around nightfall, police conducted large-scale stop and searches in Central at locations such as the City Hall car park, and partially closed the footbridge connecting IFC and Exchange Square.
Some protesters leaving the rally were seen being detained by police, and were asked to put their hands above their heads and line up against a wall.
In a statement, the police said they used the minimum necessary force to disperse protesters.
“During the arrest, a large group of radical protestors hurled hard objects at and assaulted police officers with intent to help the arrestee escape, posing a serious threat to the safety of everyone on site,” the force said.
‘Today Xinjiang, tomorrow Hong Kong’
The Sunday rally was the first of its kind in Hong Kong to express solidarity with the Uighurs in Xinjiang.
Organisers set up a banner on a stage that read “Today Xinjiang, tomorrow Hong Kong, release Ilham Tohti.” The Uighur intellectual and economist was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014 for “separatism.”
Participants also used the East Turkestan flag, and some shouted slogans calling for the end of the Chinese Communist Party and advocating Hong Kong independence.
Veteran labour activist Lee Cheuk-yan said in a speech that the treatment of Uighurs is an “example of the Chinese Communist Party at their most despicable.”
Lee added that Uighurs in Xinjiang were subject to invasive surveillance, and that the Chinese authorities were suppressing religious freedom.
Pro-independence activist Andy Chan said that the Uighur situation proved that “autonomy” under Chinese rule was a trap, and that China broke its promise to allow Uighurs to keep their religion and culture.
After his speech, Chan led the crowd in chanting pro-independence slogans.
The treatment of Uighurs returned to the spotlight in recent weeks after Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil, a German of Turkish origin, criticised China for its policies in Xinjiang.
Hong Kong’s citywide protest movement is in its seventh month, with authorities in recent weeks appearing to loosen their grip and giving approval to more protest events – including the Central rally on Sunday.
Further demonstrations have been planned for the holidays, though one organiser announced on Sunday that a march on Christmas Eve has been cancelled, because he did not agree with the changes to the time and location proposed by police.
Hong Kong Free Press relies on direct reader support. Help safeguard independent journalism and press freedom as we invest more in freelancers, overtime, safety gear & insurance during this summer’s protests. 10 ways to support us.