HONG KONG police arrested 53 people during protests on June 9 evening that saw hundreds of activists take to the streets, at times blocking roads in the heart of the global financial hub, before police fired pepper spray to disperse crowds.
The protests, called to mark a year of sometimes violent pro-democracy rallies in the former British colony, also came amid heightened tensions due to a proposed national security bill backed by the central government in Beijing.
Police said on June 10 that 36 males and 17 females were arrested for offences including unlawful assembly and participating in unauthorized assembly. Protesters had defied a ban on gatherings of more than eight people introduced by the Hong Kong government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Earlier on June 9, protesters gathered in several shopping malls to chant pro-democracy slogans, dispersing peacefully after an hour.
Some held placards reading “We can’t breathe! Free HK” and “Young lives matter”, nods to U.S. protests against police brutality sparked by the death of black American George Floyd.
“I am scared but I need to protest against national security laws. It’s important to continue to fight for freedom,” said 25-year-old Tai, who declined to give his full name.
Last year on June 9, an estimated more than one million protesters took to the streets against proposed legislation to allow extraditions to mainland China, where the courts are controlled by the Communist Party.
The government later withdrew the bill, but widespread concern lingered that Beijing was stifling freedoms in the former British colony, sparking months of sometimes violent unrest.
More protests are planned in coming days, with pro-democracy supporters fearing the proposed national security legislation will dramatically stifle freedoms in the city.
Details of the security law or how it will operate have yet to be revealed.
The standing committee of the National People’s Congress, the top decision making body of the Chinese parliament, will meet in Beijing later this month to deliberate on various draft legislation, official Chinese media reported on June 10. The reports did not specify whether any laws regarding Hong Kong were included on the agenda for discussion at the June 18-20 meeting.
Hong Kong Security Secretary John Lee told the South China Morning Post in an interview published on June 10 that local police were setting up a dedicated unit to enforce the law and it would have intelligence gathering, investigation and training capabilities.
Companies including HSBC and Standard Chartered have backed the security law without knowing the details of it, drawing criticism from some investors and U.S. and British officials.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo singled out HSBC on June 9, saying such “corporate kowtows” got little in return from Beijing and criticizing the Chinese Communist Party’s “coercive bullying tactics.”