Hong Kong police brought a planned shopping mall protest to a premature end on Friday, firing pepper spray at least once.
Hundreds began to gather at New Town Plaza in Sha Tin – a regular flashpoint during last year’s unrest – at around 6.30pm, in response to online calls to “Sing with you” at 7.30pm. The event coincided with plans to gather and shout protest slogans across various neighbourhoods on Labour Day.
Shortly before 6:30pm, police lined up around nine people and searched their bags.
At around 7pm, hundreds of riot police swept in to clear crowds, setting up cordon lines along the atrium and three floors above.
Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung, who was at the scene, told HKFP he did not understand the rationale behind the clearance.
“They said we cannot stay here but, obviously, we are not here in breach of any of the law. When they say in the name of safety I have absolutely no idea what they mean,” he said.
“As a legislator, I’m simply here to observe and make sure the police are not abusing their powers,” Yeung added.
Shortly after 7.15pm, as police confronted bystanders, an officer fired pepper spray at a surrounding crowd including Sha Tin District Councillor Leticia Wong as well as journalists.
Officers told protesters they were violating social distancing rules enacted to prevent gatherings of more than four people during the coronavirus outbreak.
Mr Ng, in his 70s, said he did not know netizens had called for a “Sing with you” protest at the mall.
He and his girlfriend planned to have dinner and go shopping in the mall before police entered at around 6 pm.
He slammed the police operation as “unnecessary,” saying that protesters were within their right to sing and chant slogans in the plaza.
“I’m very dissatisfied with the police action. [The government] always talks about reviving the economy, but now police have ruined my mood and plan to shop, and forced shops to close,” he said.
“I don’t oppose [the ‘Sing with you’ protest] because Hong Kong is a free society, so it’s reasonable for to express their views in this way,” he added.