The organiser of Sunday’s rally was arrested after it was halted prematurely by police. Confrontations also ensued in Mong Kok during the night after some protesters blocked roads.
Police demanded that Ventus Lau, who organised the Chater Garden anti-communist rally, end the gathering at 4pm. But some of the officers were then assaulted by protesters, prompting police to fire tear gas.
Lau was arrested after he spoke to the press about the incident. Lau’s group, the Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team, said police arrested him on suspicion of obstructing an officer and for violating conditions stated on the police letter of no objection for the rally.
Lau was previously charged for entering the Legislative Council complex on July 1 during a protest and is still under bail conditions. Activist Joshua Wong said that, if Lau is charged for the alleged offences on Sunday, his bail may be retracted.
‘Ridiculous and irresponsible’
Senior Superintendent (Operations) Ng Lok-chun of Hong Kong Island Region said that the peaceful rally was “hijacked by a group of rioters” who damaged property, set fires, blocked roads and assaulted police officers.
“The violence of rioters made it impossible for other rational residents to participate in this public event in a peaceful and orderly manner,” he said.
He said Lau was arrested because he did not follow the condition stated on the letter of no objection that he had to maintain order.
Ng said Lau knew the identity of the plainclothes officer who asked him to halt the rally, as he had been in contact with Lau throughout the rally.
“We must point out the liaison officers have all along maintained close communication with the organiser. The organisers certainly [are] acquainted with those injured officers. We are aware that the organiser told the press that the injured officers were ‘suspected plainclothes’. This is certainly ridiculous and irresponsible,” he said.
“In order to rescue the injured officers, some officers in riot gear arrived at the scene to offer assistance. But since the rioters carried on with their rampage, our officers had no choice but to respond with the minimum force necessary including tear gas,” he added.
Ng said four officers were injured, and eight men were arrested near the rally for possessing hammers, spanners and extendable batons.
Hundreds were forced to flee the scene as the tear gas blew into Chater Garden.
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) January 19, 2020
Large-scale protests have continued since June last year. Initially against a now-axed extradition bill, protesters are demanding the unconditional release of all arrested protesters, the retraction of “riot” characterisation of protests, an independent investigation into police behaviour, and universal suffrage.
Mong Kok unrest
At around 10:30pm, a group of black-clad protesters blocked roads in Mong Kok.
Police subdued a man and asked nearby reporters to walk back onto the pavement. Although they were on the pavement, police asked them to back off and fired pepper spray, according to RTHK.
A journalist for Mad Dog Daily vomited as a result. He complained to the police that his video equipment, worth tens of thousands of dollars, was also hit with pepper spray.
Shortly afterwards, reporters were receiving treatment with a volunteer medic at a nearby shop when a riot police fired pepper spray at them once again.
A volunteer medic said he was beaten by police on the head. He was later searched by officers.
A spokesperson for RTHK demanded an explanation from the police over the incident, saying that it was unreasonable for them to spray the reporters.
Police officers in Mong Kok suddenly rushed forward and pepper sprayed a journalist from Taiwan in the face. He couldn’t stand up and has difficulty breathing and needed immediate first aid attention. #HongKongProtests pic.twitter.com/lNEg3kKoX2
— Katherine Li (@Katherineli1997) January 19, 2020
Police, in response, said they respected press freedom, and people can file a complaint if they believed they received unreasonable treatment. The complaint will be handled fairly, police said.