Around 230 people were arrested on Sunday, including a pro-democracy lawmaker, as police faced accusations of brutality during a protest dispersal operation in Mong Kok.
Following sing-along protests at several shopping malls in the afternoon, some pro-democracy demonstrators gathered on the streets of Kowloon’s shopping district.
They attempted to set road blocks on Nathan Road in the early evening, with some debris set alight on Sai Yeung Choi Street South.
Police released a press statement, saying they would make arrests and disperse crowds in the area as they were disturbing public order and posed a threat to safety: “Protestors gathering in Mong Kok area chanted slogans and built barricades to block the roads, breaching public peace.”
Officers conducted searches inside Sai Yee Street Garden before dusk, and sealed off multiple junctions with cordon tape throughout the night.
An HKFP reporter witnessed an officer telling passersby over a loudspeaker that – if they fail to cross the road on the green pedestrian light – they may be in violation of the coronavirus gathering ban.
At around 8pm, over 100 riot police officers suddenly rushed the crowd at Sai Yeung Choi Street South and deployed pepper spray, hitting at least a man and several reporters.
They then asked crowds within the cordoned-off area to line up – they issued fixed penalty notices under the social gathering ban and searched them.
As of last Friday, anyone gathered in groups of more than eight risks a HK$2,000 fine, in an effort to combat the Covid-19 epidemic. Police have said that groups gathered for a “common purpose” are also liable to a fine.
Former spokesperson for student activist group Scholarism, Wong Ji-Yuet, was among those who received a penalty notice.
She wrote in a Facebook post that several riot police officers sexually harassed her by commenting on her body and chest size, adding that the penalty notice was unreasonable and she would fight it.
“There were only two of us,” she wrote. “We remained outside the cordoned area but were suddenly pushed and dragged into the area by officers who yelled at us, saying we were in violation of the gathering ban.”
Pro-democracy lawmaker Roy Kwong of the Democratic Party was in also Mong Kok to observe the police operations. According to an RTHK video, he was grabbed and pushed to the floor when holding a loudspeaker at around 10pm. An officer knelt on Kwong’s neck as several officers surrounded the lawmaker to make an arrest.
He was later hospitalised. According to two Facebook posts published after the incident, he suffered from a fever, head pain and several bruises as a result of the police action.
Sing Tao Daily cited a police spokesperson as saying Kwong threw a water bottle at officers, an accusation he denied on Facebook. Districts Councillor Clarisse Yeung, who was with Kwong on the night, also denied the charge as misleading.
Officers raised blue flags multiple times, declaring the gathering to be unlawful and warning that force may be used to disperse the crowd.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui asked officers to calm down: “You are provoking the crowd by raising the blue flag,” he said in reference to the police warning flag.
At around 11:30pm, one woman stood in front of the cordon line and yelled at the police, claiming that her two daughters were unreasonably arrested.
“My two daughters are each 12 and 14 years old and we were outside to have a meal after work,” she said, adding that police officers suddenly rushed towards the crowd and broke the group up.
“Are you heartless? Don’t you have mothers? Don’t you have kids?” she asked. “Then why are you making arrests and accusing us of partaking in an unlawful assembly when we are just celebrating Mother’s Day?”
An officer told her to stop clamouring as she yelled towards the crowd: “Don’t worry, mum is here.”
In a press release on Monday, police said approximately 230 persons aged between 12 and 65 were arrested “for offences including unlawful assembly, possession of instrument fit for unlawful purposes, possessing anything with intent to destroy or damage property, possession of [an] offensive weapon, possession of [a] dangerous drug, disorder in public places, obstructing a police officer in the execution of the officer’s duty, assaulting [a] police officer and failing to produce proof of identity etc.”
It added that, in light of the Covid-19 outbreak, citizens “are advised not to participate in any prohibited group gathering. Police adopt zero tolerance against any violation and will take strict enforcement action.” Fixed penalty tickets were issued to 19 people.
Local media reported that, towards the end of the night, journalists were made to kneel by police and told to stop filming.
Apple Daily reported that one of its photojournalists was choked by the police for nearly 20 seconds as she was restrained.
She reportedly experienced shock and was later sent away in an ambulance whilst wearing a neckband. It is unclear why she was targeted and whether she was arrested.
On Monday, Chris Yeung, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, expressed anger over Sunday’s events.
“It is an extremely serious and very bad case last night,” he said, according to RTHK. “[T]here were some remarks by police officers which were totally unacceptable. Insulting not just the reporters, but the profession.”
Pro-democracy activist Lester Shum commented on Facebook that the police acted and operated quickly and recklessly: “Their plan is much faster than our communication speed… And they have an abundance of resources and military power.”
Meanwhile, Joshua Wong, secretary-general of pro-democracy group Demosisto wrote on Facebook that he could not sleep after reading about the operation. “After the dark night on Mother’s Day, who could say ‘Happy Mother’s Day?’ The festive mood in the morning was ruined by the police at night.”
Pepper ball fired inside mall
Earlier on Sunday afternoon, police were suspected to have fired a pepper ball round inside Mong Kok’s MOKO mall to disperse protesters, RTHK reported.
Citizens dining at restaurants, as well as shoppers, appeared to by affected by the police projectile.
Also at MOKO mall, police said that they arrested a 22-year-old man who was “found to have materials purportedly for making petrol bombs in his possession, including gasoline, some towels and lighters.” They added that he may have been planning to use these objects during public events to endanger public safety.
Protests erupted last June over a now-axed extradition bill. They have escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. Demonstrators are demanding an independent probe into the police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.”