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.

Central ifc lunch with you
Photo: HKFP screenshot.

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.

central ifc lunch with you
Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

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.

nelson tang lunch with you central ifc
HKBU Editorial’s Nelson Tang was stopped and searched by the police at IFC mall. Photo: Students Media.

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.

lunch with you ifc central
Photo: RTHK screenshot.

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.

central ifc lunch with you
Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

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?”

central ifc lunch with you
A protester who gave his name Hugo. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

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.

lan kwai fong coronavirus virus covid (2)
Lan Kwai Fong on Thursday night. File Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Police have entered shopping malls in Tuen Mun, Tin Shui Wai, Tai Koo and Sha Tin during pro-democracy protests and issued fixed penalties, claiming people have

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.

Tuen Mun Town Plaza Sing with You
Police dispersal operation at Tuen Mun Town Plaza. Photo: Rachel Wong.

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.

rachel wong

Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.