Police arrested nearly 300 people in Hong Kong on Sunday for participating in a peaceful protest against the China-controlled government’s decision to postpone legislative elections by a year.
Footage from the protests throughout the city showed police officers using extreme force — shooting pepper balls at protesters and violently apprehending them — in the face of little to no indication that the protesters were a threat. Among the most egregious incidents recorded on Sunday was the brutal tackling to the ground of a 12-year-old girl in a shopping mall.
Reports indicate the girl was shopping with her family — not participating in the protests — when the sudden arrival of a large contingent of riot police scared her into running in the other direction. The Hong Kong police force claimed the girl looked “suspicious” in a statement following the incident and fined her for allegedly violating social distancing guidelines by running away from a crowd.
The girl appears to run in the opposite direction of a clash between protesters and police, attracting the attention of riot officers who then forcefully slam her on the ground.
A young girl is tackled to the ground by riot police after attempting to flee during a pro-democracy protest in Mong Kok. Vid courtesy: HKUST Radio News Reporting Team. In full: https://t.co/nUaPabs9Zl #hongkong pic.twitter.com/4DQi2sapCY
— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@HongKongFP) September 6, 2020
The girl suffered minor injuries, her family later told reporters, but appears traumatized by the incident. The girl’s mother, identified only by the surname “Ho,” told Apple Daily that the girl is “emotionally unstable” but lucky to have not suffered significant injury given that the tackle resulted in direct impact on her head. The girl is not yet talking to her family, the mother said.
She did, however, reportedly offer an interview to the local outlet i-Cable where she explained that she fled out of fear and that she was not participating in any protest.
Police claimed they used the “minimum necessary force” against the girl in an explanation on Facebook.
“At 4PM, about a hundred of protestors were gathering and chanting slogans on Sai Yeung Choi Street. Police therefore gave warnings for dispersal requesting protestors to leave,” police claimed. “Some refused and continued to assemble. Police subsequently intercepted the protestors, including a 12-year-old young female, for stop and search. During the interaction, she suddenly ran away in a suspicious manner. Officers therefore chased and subdued her with use of minimum necessary force.”
No evidence exists that the girl was protesting. Police fined her and her 20-year-old brother, who were in the mall to allegedly buy art supplies, 2,000 Hong Kong dollars ($258) for allegedly violating social distancing guidelines.
Hong Kong officials had originally scheduled the formerly autonomous city’s elections to take place on Sunday. Chief Executive Carrie Lam canceled the elections in late July, citing the need to observe social distancing to prevent the spread of the Chinese coronavirus. Many Hongkongers believe the true reason for canceling the elections, however, was the high turnout in primaries for pro-democracy political parties in July. Over 600,000 people voted in those primaries — potentially breaking Chinese law, police claimed.
In observance of the date, at least three neighborhoods attracted hundreds of protesters demanding their right to elect their representatives. Protesters speaking to the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily asserted that their presence in the face of growing repression was necessary to safeguard the democratic nature of Hong Kong.
“This is an illegitimate government as it is neither elected nor recognized by the people,” a protester identified only as “Lau” told the newspaper. “I am also here to exercise our right to protest, which is enshrined under the Basic Law. We do not need the authorities’ permission to hold peaceful public assemblies.”
Hong Kong’s Basic Law is its constitution, distinct from that of China. Under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, the Communist Party of China cannot impose laws on Hong Kong and Hong Kong cannot declare independence from Beijing. China flagrantly violated the policy with the passage of the “national security” law out of Beijing in May, which prohibits anyone present in Hong Kong from participating in four “crimes”: soliciting foreign interference, terrorism, secession, and “subversion of state power.”
The Hong Kong government threatened to prosecute all 600,000 people who voted in the July primaries under the “national security” law.
Another protester, identified by Apple Daily as “Kung,” rejected the Chinese coronavirus pandemic as a legitimate reason to cancel an election.
“We should have been voting today, but the government used the pandemic as an excuse to deprive us of the right to vote,” she said. “If they are able to set up so many centers and conduct the citywide COVID-19 testing scheme, there is no legitimate reason why voting cannot take place.”
Hong Kong police confirmed the arrests of 289 people city-wide on Sunday.
Video shared by the independent Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) showed riot police attacking protesters, including shooting them with pepper balls and deploying pepper spray, resulting in crowds bunching up and violating social distance regulations.
Riot police deployed pepperballs on Sai Yeung Choi Street South on Sunday after protesters threw debris at officers. Vid courtesy: HKUST Radio News Reporting Team. In full: https://t.co/nUaPabs9Zl #hongkong pic.twitter.com/srI0bNd3lF
— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@HongKongFP) September 6, 2020
Police said those arrested had violated the “national security” law or run afoul of social distancing guidelines.
“A large number of people today (September 6) ignored the advice [sic] from the Police and participated in unauthorised assemblies and blocked roads with barricades in various districts in Kowloon,” the Hong Kong Police Force said in a statement published Sunday. “Some of them also threw hard objects at police officers and chanted slogans connoting ‘Hong Kong independence.’ A Government spokesman strongly condemns these unlawful and selfish acts.”
“Police discharged their rightful duties today and took prompt and decisive actions to apprehend the offenders,” the spokesman reportedly insisted. “The spokesman solemnly points out that … acts advocating Hong Kong independence may also breach the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (National Security Law).”
The police statement simultaneously insisted that freedom of speech still existed in Hong Kong, but that statements urging independence from the Communist Party were illegal.
Another of the more controversial arrests Sunday was that of a bus driver who allegedly honked at a gang of riot police blocking the road.
“The driver was stopped because his driving attitude was very dangerous,” police clarified in a statement after his arrest, which included charges of driving recklessly.