Local media reported that 150,000 people in Hong Kong attended a protest Sunday demanding the world impose sanctions on the Communist Party of China that ended abruptly with police brutality and the arrest of its organizer despite the group receiving a legal permit for assembly.
The protest was reportedly the first major assembly since the new year, when 1 million Hongkongers organized against the regime. Millions of locals have taken the streets since June 2019 demanding that Beijing abide by the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement that prevents the Communist Party from imposing itself on the capitalist city. The protests initially began as a response to a proposed law that would have allowed the Hong Kong government to extradite anyone present in the city into the Chinese prison system if accused of violating Chinese, not Hong Kong, law.
Hong Kong is technically part of sovereign China but run as an autonomous community. China has largely eroded this state of affairs by appointing pro-communist leaders within the city’s executive and legislative branches.
The protesters organizing on Sunday, in addition to asking the world to condemn and sanction China’s human rights abuses, chanted slogans referring to the protest movement’s five demands: an end to the extradition law, an end to the government calling the protests “riots,” freedom for political prisoners, direct election of lawmakers, and an independent probe into police brutality against protesters.
Sunday’s protest was different from most that had occurred before in that it demanded international action against Hong Kong’s China-controlled government for human rights abuses. It occurred shortly after China banned the head of the NGO Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, from entering the city for an event debuting the group’s annual human rights report on China. The report, published after Roth failed to travel to China, denounced Beijing as “an existential threat to the rights of people worldwide” for its ability to use economic power to bully states and corporations into silence before its human rights atrocities. Among the examples in the report were the NBA’s profuse apologies last year after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey expressed support for the Hong Kong protests publicly.
The protest Sunday appeared largely peaceful throughout the day, aided initially by the fact that its organizer, Ventus Lau of the Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team, had received police approval to organize it. Protesters brought large signs, American and other foreign flags, and wore colorful costumes to bring attention to China’s human rights abuses, as images shared by the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) showed.
Police reportedly allowed the protest to occur unperturbed only for little more than an hour, shutting it down around 4 p.m. local time.
“The gathering in Chater Garden had started peacefully. However in the surrounding areas black-clad protesters soon began erecting barricades, vandalising traffic lights and defacing buildings,” local broadcaster RTHK reported. Police later justified the shutdown by claiming that protesters had gotten violent, despite the vast majority of those assembled not appearing so.
According to RTHK, the protest turned violent when a plain-clothes police officer approached Lau, the organizer, and asked for identification without identifying himself as a police officer. The officer finally relented and showed proof he was with the police, then demanded to shut down the rally. Officers fired tear gas soon after, confusing the crowd. Joshua Wong, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent dissidents against China, said on Twitter that he was mid-speech at the assembly when tear gas first shot out.
“When the policeman finally showed his ID, Lau agreed to end the rally. However surrounding people immediately set on the officer and prevented him from leaving,” RTHK added. “He and several other people appeared to have been injured a short while later, bleeding from head wounds. Police later released a statement saying two officers from the community liaison office had been beaten with wooden sticks when they tried to communicate with the rally organizers.”
Authorities reportedly told Lau initially that he was arrested for “obstructing an officer” by asking for identification – claiming this officer had a prior relationship with Lau from the organizing process – and for violating the conditions of the permit that allowed the rally to occur.
“We must point out the liaison officers have all along maintained close communication with the organizer. The organizers certainly is [sic] acquainted with those injured officers,” Senior Superintendent of police Ng Lok-chun told reporters on Sunday. “We are aware that the organizer told the press that the injured officers were ‘suspected plainclothes’. This is certainly ridiculous and irresponsible.”
Later on Sunday, however, reports surfaced that police arrested Lau arguing that his assembly had become too popular and that he had not told protesters to disperse when the police ordered him to. RTHK noted in its report Monday that Lau and other organizers were publicly using megaphones to request that protesters disperse, disproving the police claim.
Police increased the injured officer tally to four officers on Monday. Most of those officers, HKFP also noted, were in plain clothes.
Protest groups responded with footage of officers beating protesters publicly following their demand for the rally to shut down.
Journalists attempting to cover the rally also denounced police for using violent tactics against them, not just protesters. The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association issued a statement accusing officers of having “attacked journalists for no reason” on Sunday. Police reportedly pepper-sprayed journalists, shoved them to the ground and stole their cameras and camera phones, and otherwise intimidated reporters out of revealing the situation at the rally.