Hundreds gathered at a Taikoo Shing shopping mall on Sunday to chant pro-democracy slogans amid calls for the resumption of protests following a dip in the number of coronavirus cases.
Crowds responded to online calls to protest under the slogan “Singing with you” by gathering at the atrium and three floors of Cityplaza from around 6pm.
They chanted familiar protest slogans “Five demands, not one less,” “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolutions of our time,” and “Disband the police force, no delay.”
They also displayed flags containing messages including “Hong Kong independence, the only way out,” as well as the Taiwanese flag, in solidarity with the country which has faced pressure from Beijing.
Some held up posters reading “Stand resolute for freedom, oppose Article 23 legislation,” in reference to a constitutional duty to enact national security laws. Activists argue that the legislation could undermine rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.
Over the public announcement system, mall staff advised people to refrain from gathering in crowds due to coronavirus social distancing measures.
The Centre for Health Protection reported zero new confirmed cases last Monday, last Friday and Sunday. Over the weekend, the city saw an uptick in the number of crowds in commercial districts such as Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay.
At around 6:40pm, uniformed police officers holding pepper spray cans and shields entered the mall from the fifth-floor entrance.
Another group of riot police arrived at around 6:50pm. They later sealed off the atrium and multiple escalators using cordon tape and asked the crowd to leave.
Tai Koo Shing West District Councillor Andrew Chiu told HKFP that the police commander did not provide a reason for the deployment of riot officers: “I condemn [the] police for deploying so [much] manpower to threaten peaceful citizens, especially on behalf of my constituency as its district councillor.”
Chiu said the commander told him police were responding to an emergency call about people violating social distancing rules inside the mall. The district councillor added that some of the officers acted agitated.
At around 7:10pm, crowds moved towards the mall exits two levels below the atrium and sang the popular protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong,” as police attempted to disperse them.
They spilt out onto the road and onto a private housing estate.
Officers at the scene said the crowd was in violation of an anti-epidemic ban on public gatherings of more than four people.
In a follow-up statement, police dismissed claims that crowds could congregate so long as groups of no more than four people distanced themselves from others.
“Police sternly clarify that as long as the persons gather for a common purpose in [a] public place, it is irrelevant whether the participants have kept a distance of 1.5m from each other or between each small group of four; such [a] public event consisting of more than four persons is still a prohibited group gathering,” it read.
One demonstrator bearing a protest flag shouted at police: “Even though it is my first HKDSE exam tomorrow, I am here to protest,” he said, in reference to the city’s university entrance exams.
He later told members of the press that he felt confident about taking his exams and was not worried about the results.
At around 8:22pm, Chiu’s assistant was injured in a fall while being pulled away for arrest by police officers outside a restaurant. He was later treated by two volunteer first-aiders and sent away in an ambulance.
Chiu told reporters afterwards that he suspected his assistant had landed on his head.
He appeared to become emotional, saying: “If they were really reacting to a 999 call about violations inside the mall, why did they operate here, within Tai Koo Shing area, a private premise?”