Hong Kong police have arrested a man who held up white flowers in a busy commercial district as the city marked China’s National Day.

oct 1 arrest
Police officers pinned down a man holding up white flowers in Causeway Bay on Oct. 1, 2023. Screenshots: Boomheadhk, via YouTube.

Police said officers stopped and searched the 39-year-old man in Causeway Bay on Sunday, and that he refused to cooperate. He was arrested for disorder in a public place and obstructing police in the execution of their duties.

Videos on social media showed the man, dressed in a black t-shirt with characters reading “Hong Kong add oil” on it – a phrase of encouragement that roughly translates to “come on” – outside Sogo department store. He was also holding up white flowers. In Chinese culture, white flowers represent death and are often used in funeral arrangements.

When asked by plainclothes police officers to display his Hong Kong identity card, the man did not respond and began swearing, according to the video clips. After multiple warnings, three officers then pinned the man down and tied his hands behind his back as he struggled.

The incident attracted a small crowd of passers-by. One yelled “don’t press [his] neck,” while another said “offering flowers is not a crime.”

YouTube video

Local media outlets identified the man as Yung Wai-yip, who is known as “Captain America” for carrying a shield associated with the superhero at protests.

In 2019, he was convicted of rioting and attacking a police officer after being arrested in 2016 over unrest in Mong Kok that February, when violent scenes were triggered by the authorities’ attempts to clear street hawkers over Lunar New Year. In mitigation, the defence said Yung had autism and was a good-natured person, and urged the judge to consider a non-custodial sentence. Yung was eventually jailed for three years.

Sensitive dates

The arrest came as the city celebrated its first National Day since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted. In a reception attended by top officials, Chief Executive John Lee hailed China’s economic achievements in recent years, adding that the country’s development had given Hong Kong “endless opportunities.”

Crowds National Day Fireworks Victoria Harbour 2023
People watch Hong Kong’s National Day fireworks from Tsim Sha Tsui, on October 1, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Hong Kong also saw its first fireworks display in five years, which authorities said attracted a record-breaking 430,000 people to gather along Victoria Harbour.

Traditionally a day of protest with mass marches and rallies from pro-democracy parties and civil society groups, National Day has not seen such scenes since Beijing imposed a national security law in June 2020. Many of those groups have also since disbanded, citing an atmosphere of fear under the security law.

According to AFP, police have also increased surveillance of activists – discouraging rallies, paying home visits ahead of sensitive dates, and summoning protest leaders for warning chats.

The city also marked the ninth anniversary of the Umbrella Movement last Thursday. Before the security law was enacted, the date typically drew crowds to Admiralty, where the 79-day largely peaceful civil disobedience movement kicked off.

This year’s anniversary, however, saw just a single activist Alexandra “Grandma” Wong outside the government headquarters. She held up a yellow umbrella and a sign reading “add oil.”

Pro-democracy activist Grandma Alexandra Wong umbrella movement government headquarters Admiralty
Pro-democracy activist “Grandma” Alexandra Wong holding a yellow umbrella and placard outside government headquarters on September 28, 2023. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

According to local media outlet The Collective, three students at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) stood vigil to mark the protest anniversary and distributed yellow ribbons. One of them had a sign on his t-shirt reading “freedom is not free” and “The school doesn’t allow [us] to pass out [ribbons]. Are you willing to take one?”

After 10 minutes, they were stopped by university staff and told they were taking part in an unauthorised activity, The Collective reported.

In an emailed response to HKFP, HKBU said the university “respects and upholds the freedom of speech and expression of opinions.”

“According to the regulations, if students or student organisations need to organise activities on campus, they have to apply to the University prior to the events in accordance with the procedures, and provide accurate information about the events,” the email read.

The university added it could request the termination of events and take disciplinary action if students were found to have violated regulations.

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.