Hong Kong police fined journalists and civilians in Yuen Long on Tuesday night as dozens gathered to mark one year since a mob attack that injured 45 people. A district councillor was also arrested on suspicion of breaking the national security law after he displayed a banner featuring a criminalised protest slogan.
At around 6.30 pm, crowds gathered at Yuen Long’s Yoho Mall, next to the MTR station where the attack took place.
On July 21 last year, around 100 white-clad assailants with triad links beat civilians and commuters with bamboo sticks and other weapons. Police have been accused of ignoring distress calls and walking away from the scene.
Demonstrators responded to online calls to hold white placards and tissue paper in protest of alleged police inaction during the mob attack. Protesters have used blank signs to oppose the government’s decision to ban the popular slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times” under the Beijing-enacted national security law.
A woman who gave her name as Jenny held a drawing of two hands signifying the slogan, “Five demands, not one less.”
The 60-year-old told HKFP she was terrified when she saw the mob attack on television and furious at the force for making so few arrests: “Police walked past the attackers even though they had weapons in their hands. Those black cops are not human.”
Jenny said her painting was a response to the recent crackdown on political expression, adding it symbolised “white terror” under the new legislation criminalising secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.
Riot police entered the mall minutes after crowds began shouting slogans, including “July 21 people disappeared, August 31 beat people to death.” The second half of the chant referenced unfounded rumours of civilian deaths during a police dispersal operation at Prince Edward MTR station last year.
Officers urged people to leave the shopping mall, saying they risked violating the coronavirus public gathering ban on groups of more than four people. Some who remained received fixed fines of HK$2,000.
A secondary student who gave his name as Tsui told HKFP police did not ask him to leave when he sat down to draw the officers. He said was outraged by police behaviour over the past year: “I want to draw police in action to show others how reckless they often behave.”
At around 7.30 pm, police raised a purple banner warning crowds they may be violating the security law. Kwai Tsing District Councillor Rayman Chow was arrested on suspicion of breaking the legislation after he held a banner featuring a prohibited slogan with a line saying “Police-triad collusion.”
Chaotic scenes broke out when more than a hundred journalists tried to approach Chow as he was being apprehended. Police fired pepper spray, then kettled reporters using cordon tape. Officers asked journalists to present press passes from the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) before letting them out of the sealed-off area.
Police searched some wearing yellow press vests and those who failed to show the requested HKJA credentials were given fixed penalty tickets for breaching Covid-19 social distancing restrictions.
At around 9.15 pm, Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui was arrested for obstructing police work, after he challenged officers for stopping and searching several district councillors.
Pro-democracy District Councillors Sam Cheung, Eddie Chan, Lee Ka-wai, Chan Kim-kam and Ng Kin-wai were also handed fines, according to Ming Pao.
Similar checks of journalists took place outside the mall around Fung Kam Street and Fung Kwan Street. Police asked an HKFP reporter to present her HKJA press card, outlet credentials and Hong Kong identity card while officers recorded her personal details.
A Police Public Relations Branch (PPRB) officer told HKFP the force did not intend to prevent journalists from reporting, but from “gathering” instead. He added police would continue to take action to stop large public assemblies: “Of course you have the freedom to report but don’t violate the gathering restrictions.”
As of 11 pm on Tuesday, 96 people were fined and five arrested in Yuen Long, according to a police Facebook post. The force also accused civilians of dressing as reporters in order to take part in prohibited gatherings. It claimed more than one-third of the 150 people intercepted while wearing press vests were not reporting or not employed by media organisations.
Some did not have HKJA press passes and others were underage, it said: “Amid the pandemic, those who use their reflective vests as disguises and participate in prohibited gatherings are disregarding public health and obstructing police operations. This has also increased the risk of transmission of diseases. The police severely condemn such acts.”