BEIJING – At least 49 people were arrested and another 16 injured during the latest mass demonstration that swept the financial district of Hong Kong, and which went ahead despite being banned by the authorities, the island’s police said on Monday.
According to a statement by the police, the people were arrested for taking part in Sunday’s illegal rally – punishable with a three- to five-year prison sentence and hefty fines – and for possession of offensive weapons.
A total of 16 people were injured, of which four have already been discharged from hospital and the rest remain stable, according to the supervisory authority of the city’s hospitals cited by local media.
Several ambulances were seen crossing the area where protesters and riot police clashed, although an official count of the number of injured has yet to be released.
The authorities had denied permission for a two-kilometer (1.2-mile) march from Chater Garden to Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park in the city’s downtown area, claiming it was dangerous, though they did allow a public meeting at the Chater Garden.
However, that did not prevent thousands of people, in several groups, from turning out and protesting on the main streets of the area.
According to the police statement, the protesters attacked officers with “bricks, glass bottles, paint bombs; pouring suspected corrosive liquids; and shooting metal marbles with a crossbow.”
“Large traffic signs were removed from curbs and heavy objects were hurled from height at police officers near Rumsey Street in Sheung Wan, posing serious threats to their lives,” it added.
The police claimed they had also seized “lethal weapons” such as bows and arrows, condemned the attitude of the demonstrators and reiterated their “determination and capability to bring offenders to justice.”
Numerous riot police officers deployed around the Wan Chai police station and the headquarters of the Liaison Office – which represents the mainland Chinese government in Hong Kong – used gas canisters to disperse the protesters.
The clashes between demonstrators and the police were particularly tense on Sunday, as witnessed by EFE.
In a separate statement, the special administrative region’s government gave a strong condemnation of “the radical protesters who disregarded law and order and violently breached the public peace” and said it would provide full support to the police “to strictly enforce the law” and restore public order as soon as possible.
“We once again appeal to members of the public to express their views in a peaceful and rational manner and abide by the law,” the government added.
Sunday’s meeting and the improvised demonstration were held in protest of the police’s actions in recent weeks. Activists say that law enforcement has used excessive force against protesters while giving a very meek response to an incident on July 21 in the Yuen Long neighborhood.
That day, at the Yuen Long subway station, 45 demonstrators were injured in an attack by a mob allegedly made up of members of the Chinese mafia, commonly known as triads. The police did not intervene.
On Sunday, tens of thousands of people held another unauthorized march in the neighborhood, in which 23 people were injured and 13 arrested, including one of the organizers.
This is a new phase in the demonstrations that began in early June in Hong Kong against a controversial extradition bill.
Protesters now have broader demands regarding the democratic mechanisms of the former British colony, whose sovereignty reverted back to China in 1997 after Beijing committed to maintaining its special system of common law until 2047.
Although Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam had announced the death of the bill earlier this month, the protesters – who have persistently called for Lam’s resignation – were left dissatisfied and have continued to take to the streets in large numbers over the past eight weekends.