A man with a Hong Kong independence flag in Causeway Bay has become the first to be arrested under the Beijing-imposed national security law, according to police.
Thousands defied police warnings over group gatherings and chanted slogans outside SOGO shopping mall on Wednesday, a day after the sweeping legislation – criminalising secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference – came into force.
The day before, an appeal board upheld a ban on the annual July 1 pro-democracy march from Victoria Park, which coincides with the anniversary of the city’s handover to China. The force said its decision was based on public health concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Officers fired pepper spray multiple times and set up cordons along the main thoroughfares. Democratic Party legislator Andrew Wan also appeared to be arrested.
Wearing a military uniform, pro-democracy activist Tam Tak-chi from People Power said the city had entered the “age of One Country, One System.” He added journalists on-site may be at risk of arrest for secession under the security law.
Police displayed blue flags warning of an illegal assembly and a yellow flag cautioning against crossing cordon lines.
They also unfurled a new purple flag, telling crowds they were conducting themselves with an intent to violate provisions under the new law.
At around 2:30 pm, hundreds began to march towards Wan Chai whilst raising their hands up to signal “Five demands, not one less” and chanting slogans including “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” Some scattered joss paper – normally burned at funerals – along the roads.
Central and Western District Councillor Fergus Leung told HKFP the July 1 march was significant: “The promulgation of the national security law will lead to white terror in Hong Kong,” he said. “But I believe, from the people you see on the streets today, Hongkongers will not back down in the face of oppression from the Chinese Communist Party.”
He called the earlier arrest of a man possessing a Hong Kong independence flag ridiculous: “The government is not only attempting to control people’s actions but also people’s minds… If China itself is so fragile as to be hurt by a flag, China needs to reflect why it is so fragile.”
Police fired liquid from the water cannon truck multiple times in Wan Chai.
As of 3 pm, around 30 people had been arrested on suspicion of participating in an unlawful assembly, violating the national security law, obstructing a police officer and possessing offensive weapons, according to NowTV.
Some crowds later retreated into the nearby Times Square shopping mall in Causeway Bay and continued to shout protest slogans inside.
At 3:15 pm, police issued a statement saying crowds had blocked traffic and refused to comply with the Public Order Ordinance and the new national security law: “Police warn lawbreakers to stop their disruptive acts that destroy public peace and safety. Police will continue to take resolute law enforcement action and have zero tolerance [for] unlawful acts.”
Shortly before 3:30 pm, a small makeshift roadblock was set alight on Hennessy Road.
Protesters also tore down a banner celebrating the passing of the security law from a footbridge in Causeway Bay.
Bricks were also torn from the pavement along Queen’s Road East in Wan Chai, in a repeat of scenes last year.