Hong Kong police deployed in force across the city on Thursday in anticipation of unauthorised pro-democracy gatherings on the 71st anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
There was a heavy police presence in Causeway Bay outside of the SOGO shopping centre from the early afternoon, as officers stopped and searched members of the public. Several journalists, including a reporter for local media outlet the PSHK, were also questioned.
At around 1 pm, police raised a blue flag twice in the space of a few minutes, warning those present that they were participating in an unauthorised assembly and were in breach of the law.
A black-clad man carrying a large yellow balloon was stopped by police, as officers warned him his “behaviour” may “hurt passers-by.”
Police also sealed off parts of Paterson Street as dozens including journalists remain inside the cordoned area.
Several protesters chanted anti-police slogans and “revolution of our times,” the second half of a popular protest slogan that begins with “Liberate Hong Kong.”
The government has since criminalised the phrase, saying it violates the national security law, which Beijing enacted on June 30.
Ray Chan, a former pro-democracy lawmaker, was handing out masks to passers-by in the area. Riot police urged him to leave, saying he was attracting a crowd.
The People Power chair stepped down from his seat on Wednesday in protest of Beijing’s decision to extend the current legislative term by one year in response to the postponement of the 2020 Legislative Council election.
Prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was also present. He was arrested last Thursday on suspicion of participating in an unauthorised assembly and violating a mask ban last October.
At around 3:30 pm, moments after protesters chanted “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times,” police on Great George Street raised a purple banner, warning crowds that they may be in breach of the security law.
One black-clad protester waved a US flag.
The force last Friday rejected an application from the Civil Human Rights Front – a coalition of pro-democracy groups – to hold a march from Causeway Bay to Central. The group lost an appeal against the letter of objection on Monday.
The objectives of the banned march were to insist upon the “five demands” of last year’s pro-democracy protests, as well as for the release of 12 Hongkongers currently detained in Shenzhen, China. The fugitives, who were all involved in charges related to last year’s protests, were intercepted while trying to flee to Taiwan on a boat, local media reported.
Former journalist Bruce Lui, who also teaches journalism at the Hong Kong Baptist University, told HKFP he was acting as an on-site observer for the Hong Kong Journalists Association.
He said he will be monitoring police treatment of journalists following the force’s newly amended definition of media representatives: “We are concerned that under the new arrangement of Hong Kong police… there will be unfair or unreasonable treatment upon those so-called unrecognised journalists, especially when police cordon up certain areas and exclude their rights of coverage. But so far I haven’t found anything unreasonable yet.”
The force wrote on Facebook that at least 86 people, including District Councillors Fergus Leung and Shun Lee, had been arrested “for participating in unauthorised assemblies, possession of offensive weapon and other offences.”
Meanwhile, police announced they are looking for two individuals who allegedly threw a petrol bomb and debris into Lung Cheung Road in Wong Tai Sin at around 3pm.
‘Incitements of violence’
In the early afternoon, the government issued a statement which condemned online comments which allegedly incited “unlawful” and “violent” acts against police officers.
The spokesperson also warned that those who intended to participate in the banned procession would face legal consequences. Under the city’s Public Order Ordinance, anyone found guilty of participating in an unauthorised assembly could face a maximum of five years’ imprisonment.
Separately, in the city’s Sai Wan district, veteran pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk-yan was fined for violating social distancing regulations which limit public gatherings to no more than four people.
Lee was demonstrating with activists from the League of Social Democrats and the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China outside the China Liaison Office. The group demanded the immediate release of the 12 detained activists.
Lee later tore up his fine. Fellow veteran activists Emily Lau and Albert Ho were also present.
The statement said the police has been “sufficiently deployed” across various districts “to ensure that members of the public may enjoy the festival in a safe and orderly manner,” adding the force “will closely monitor the situation and step up intelligence gathering.”
“If anyone is suspected of being involved in any unlawful activities, police officers will intervene swiftly and enforce the law resolutely.”
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, a procession of individuals wearing red, waving Chinese flags and shouting support for China walked along Hennessy Road.
The demonstrators appeared to march in an orderly fashion, maintaining a wide space between them. There appeared to be no police presence at the scene.
When HKFP asked about the police enforcement action, a spokesperson said the force was committed to carrying out anti-epidemic work with other bureaux: “[It] is [our] legitimate duty to ensure all group gatherings comply with relevant regulations. The only objective of police operations is to appeal to the public to strictly follow relevant regulations in order to reduce the risks of spreading [the] virus.”
Police did not clarify as to why the force did not respond to the pro-Beijing gathering, but said that “enforcement actions are not based on any political stance.”
Additional Reporting by Kelly Ho and Tom Grundy.