Hong Kong police fired pepper ball rounds and pepper spray in Central on Tuesday night as hundreds of demonstrators marked the one year anniversary of a huge march that kicked off months of pro-democracy unrest. More than 50 were arrested in the process.

June 9 2020 march Central
Crowds march from Chater Garden. Photo: Studio Incendo.

On June 9 last year, more than one million people – according to organiser estimates – took to the streets to oppose a now-withdrawn extradition bill which would have allowed fugitive transfers to mainland China.

June 9 2020 protest police Central
Heavy police presence outside the former Legislative Council Building opposite to Chater Garden.

It was followed by more than half a year of large-scale protests, which escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour amid calls for democratic reform and anger over Beijing’s encroachment.

June 9 2020 march police Central
Police raise blue flag warning demonstrators they are taking part in an illegal procession. Photo: Benjamin Yuen/United Social Press.

Crowds responded to online calls to gather in Chater Garden in Central at around 6:30 pm.

There was a heavy police presence beforehand, with officers stationed at the park entrances and others patrolled the area whilst conducted stop and searches.

June 9 2020 march Central
Crowds march along Queen’s Road Central. Photo: Studio Incendo.

At around 6:15 pm, riot police entered the park and warned people to leave. They took away at least one man and one woman after they argued with officers on site.

June 9 2020 march Central
Photo: Studio Incendo.

At around 7 pm, hundreds began to march on along the vehicle lanes of Queen’s Road Central and Des Voeux Road Central. Demonstrators displayed their phone flashlights and chanted slogans including “Hongkongers, build a nation” and “Hong Kong independence, the only way out.”

June 9 2020 march Central
Demonstrators wave pro-independence flags. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Police said demonstrators had obstructed traffic and posed a “grave threat to road safety.” They attempted to disperse crowds with pepper spray and made at least two arrests on Des Voeux Road Central.

June 9 2020 march police Central pepper spray
Police fire pepper spray. Photo: Tam Ming Keung/United Social Press.

Crowds scattered around the central business district, whilst police continued to stop and search citizens’ belongings.

Police raised a blue flag – warning people that they were participating in an unlawful procession – several times throughout the night.

June 9 2020 march Central pepper spray
A man is treated by first aid volunteers after being pepper sprayed. Photo: Studio Incendo.

The force wrote on Facebook that officers had found a can of paint thinner, glass bottles and several umbrellas on a footbridge in Central at around 8 pm. They suspected the items could have been used by protesters who hurled objects earlier in the night.

At around 10 pm, officers fired pepper balls outside Hip Shing Hong Centre, followed by several bursts of pepper spray near a Hong Kong MTR station exit. Some people were stopped and searched by police outside the station, including those wearing first aid vests, according to local media.

June 9 2020 march police Central pepper ball rounds
Pepper ball rounds in deployed. Photo: Benjamin Yuen/United Social Press.

The force said protesters had behaved in a “disorderly” manner and ignored police warnings on repeatedly blocking roads. As of midnight, a total of 53 people – 36 men and 17 women – were arrested in Central for allegedly participating in unauthorised assemblies, according to a police Facebook post.

June 9 2020 march police Central arrest
First aid volunteers are among people stopped by police. Photo: Benjamin Yuen/United Social Press.

Yuen Long District Councillors Ng Kin-wai, Lam Chun and To Ka-lun were among the group of people taken away on police coaches.

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.