Hong Kong demonstrators “celebrated” Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s 63rd birthday on Wednesday night by staging protests in shopping malls across the city.
Police deployed pepper spray and took away at least four men in Sha Tin, while officers entered several other malls to warn crowds to disperse, citing violations of the coronavirus social gathering rules.
At around 7:30 pm, hundreds of citizens began gathering in shopping centres in different districts in response to online calls for another night of pro-democracy sing-along demonstrations.
On Hong Kong Island, people congregated in Times Square in Causeway Bay, as well as at Cityplaza in Taikoo Shing. In Kowloon, most protesters showed up in Langham Place in Mong Kok, despite an abrupt call to change the protest venue to Olympian City in the same area, citing concerns over a heavy police presence.
In the New Territories, crowds were found in Sha Tin New Town Plaza, Tai Po Mega Mall, Tsuen Wan Plaza and Tuen Mun Town Plaza.
As usual, protesters chanted slogans and sang songs related to the anti-extradition bill movement which erupted in the city last June. They shouted: “Five demands, not one less,” and “Disband the police force, immediately!” Some also brought flags that featured the iconic protest catchphrase “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”
To mark Lam’s birthday, some protesters in Mong Kok prepared a “birthday cake” and sang “Happy Birthday” – but with lyrics altered to include profanity – as well as throwing traditional funeral joss paper.
One black-clad protester – a blue-collar worker who did not wish to be named – told HKFP that he hoped to express himself without police intervention: “We are trying to close down the stores in order to curb the financial development here.”
“[The] Hong Kong Legislative Council is just a big joke,” he added, in reference to the controversial national anthem bill. “All the civilised legal system is turned into a big drama.” He said that universal suffrage and independence for Hong Kong was the only way forward.
Some protesters shouted anti-police slogans. Others created posters to mock the Hong Kong police after two officers were arrested last week over possession of over 25kg of methamphetamine – suspected to have been seized in a drugs haul.
Demonstrations in most districts remained peaceful, while police remained on standby outside the malls. At around 8:15 pm, officers first entered Tsuen Wan Plaza ordering crowds to disperse and warning they would be in breach of the government’s ban on public gatherings of more than eight people. They then patrolled the mall and filmed citizens.
One officer got into an argument with Tsuen Wan District Councillor Chan Kim-kam, as he warned Chan and her assistants not to stand close to his back. He slammed Chan as behaving like his “primary six son,” who would not listen, after Chan did not follow his order to step back.
“You only know how to challenge me, making queries the moment I arrived,” the officer said.
Chaotic scenes erupted in Sha Tin at around 9 pm, when a black-clad protester was subdued by two plainclothes officers outside Chinese bubble tea shop HEYTEA. One officer sat on the man while pepper spraying surrounding journalists and citizens. Minutes later, uniform officers arrived at the scene and sealed off parts of the mall. The man was later taken away by police.
This came a day after Commissioner of Police Chris Tang admitted treatment of the press in a protest dispersal operation on Sunday was “undesirable,” saying officers should have been more professional.
Police later issued a statement on Facebook, stating that officers had subdued a “rioter” who broke into a shop at the mall and damaged screens and other electrical appliances. During the process, someone opened an umbrella and waved it in the direction of plainclothes officers, who deployed pepper spray.
“The Police warn all rioters to stop vandalism and unlawful acts. Officers will take resolute actions to enforce the law,” the force wrote.
Speaking to Apple Daily at the scene, pro-democracy activist Ventus Lau accused the police of using the subdued protester as an excuse to send a large group of officers into the mall.
“It seems the police have more and more ways to find excuses to enter [shopping malls] and prevent citizens from taking part in peaceful ‘Sing With You’ events,” he said.
Tensions between police and the crowds remained high in Sha Tin. At around 10 pm, police began conducting stop and search actions and set up cordons at the “hundred steps” staircase near Sha Tin Town Hall. According to Apple Daily, one man was hospitalised after feeling unwell during the search. Two other young males were handcuffed and brought onto police vehicles after police searched their belongings.
District Councillor Raymond Li told the newspaper that the scene was chaotic as the crowds were dissatisfied with the police operation. He said he became trapped inside the sealed off areas and got into a scuffle with officers: “He just kept pushing and I got pushed down. During the process, there was a lot of pushing and shouting,” Li said.
In Mong Kok, a small handful of protesters entered the Nathan Road thoroughfare at around 10 pm, after Langham Place closed. Dozens of riot police appeared seconds later and set up a cordon, telling reporters to keep a distance.
Citizens dispersed quickly upon the police arrival and officers returned to their vehicles.
Police eventually left the scene before midnight.
Additional reporting: Tom Grundy.