Hong Kong police have cleared pro-democracy protesters engaged in a lunchtime pro-democracy sing-along at a luxury shopping mall in Central.
Protesters gathered at the IFC mall at around 1pm on Friday for a “Lunch With You” protest, responding to online calls which promoted the demonstration as a legal effort to promote coronavirus-related information.
Certain events related to covid-19 are exempt from social distancing measures. But gatherings of more than eight people are otherwise banned.
The group chanted slogans including “Hong Kong independence, the only way out,” “Five demands, not one less” and sang the protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong along with music played on a loudspeaker. Protesters also placed photographs of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on the floor, then trampled on them.
Using a loudspeaker from two levels above, police asked the crowd to disperse, claiming the gathering was banned under the Prevention and Control of Disease (Prohibition on Group Gathering) Regulation.
At around 1:15pm more than 50 police officers cleared protesters by cordoning off the area with tape.
Shortly after, Nelson Tang – a student journalist for the Hong Kong Baptist University Student Union Editorial Board – was stopped and searched by the police on a floor above.
He was later pushed to the floor by a police officer and taken behind an exit door, while several reporters and himself shouted that he had been beaten.
Tang was later seen by an HKFP reporter being taken to a police car.
A number of reporters were hit by pepper spray and treated by volunteer first-aiders at the scene.
Several shoppers were issued HK$2,000 fixed penalties under the social distancing rules after police surrounded them.
One woman who was issued with a penalty told the police officer that she was at the mall to get fast food takeaway.
She showed an officer a receipt: “I am here to get McDonald’s,” she said. The officer responded: “So what? I bought McDonald’s yesterday as well.”
Another police officer – who gave his surname as Sin – said he was stationed at Central police district told her not to dispute the ticket: “This is not a place to debate, we are here to enforce the law. Our colleagues told you very clearly what laws you are in violation of,” he said.
Police left the mall at around 2pm.
A protester named Hugo told HKFP that he did not understand on what grounds police could enter the mall: “There isn’t any crime happening inside the mall, what gives them the right to barge inside?”
He added that the coronavirus rules were “a convenient tool for the government to oppress its people, packaged as a new law.”
Gathering ban relaxed to 8
Hong Kong has banned public gatherings of more than four people since March 27, as a social distancing measure amid the coronavirus outbreak. The limit was raised from four to eight persons per gathering on Friday.
Since last June protests have erupted over a now-axed extradition bill, and Hong Kong has seen months of city-wide social unrest. Protests scaled down amid the coronavirus pandemic but have gradually become more active in the past two weeks, which have seen 17 days without local infections.
According to the regulation, persons who attend gatherings for work purposes, government functions and those held for imparting information conducive to the prevention and control of the disease are exempted from prosecution.