Thousands marched in the streets of Hong Kong once again on Thursday in a more confrontational demonstration than some organizers planned, blocking roads and surrounding police headquarters to demand the release of previously arrested protesters.
One participant was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer, while at least 60 more were “identified” by the police as possible subjects for further action.
Thursday’s demonstration was organized by well-known pro-democracy activists including Baggio Leung, famed for working gestures of defiance against mainland China into his oath of office when he was elected to the legislature in 2016. Leung was banned from holding office as a result but remained an undaunted advocate of independence for Hong Kong.
Leung stressed the importance of demonstrating the enduring strength of the protest movement before the G20 summit in Japan this weekend, and on Thursday the movement did just that, surrounding police headquarters to demand accountability for excessive police violence against demonstrators and call for the release of imprisoned activists.
The movement remains determined to see the permanent end of Hong Kong’s controversial extradition bill, which critics fear would compromise the island’s autonomy and make it possible for mainland China to abduct foreigners and political dissidents.
Demonstrators are also increasingly bold in calling for deep democratic reforms, including the direct election of top officials who are currently installed by a pro-China governing board. On Thursday they carried signs reading “Free Hong Kong” and “Democracy Now” and chanted “Hong Kong police knowingly broke the law.”
“If you believe in values like democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law like we do, please, we urge all of you to voice out during the G20 summit, and defend our rights together with Hong Kong people,” read a statement from the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), organizers of the rally.
The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) published drone footage that illustrated the massive size of the rally, perhaps intending to counter official efforts to downplay crowd sizes as much as possible.
Secretary for Security John Lee criticized the protesters for damaging police headquarters during the event, saying they “crossed the boundary of freedom of expression.”
“The police’s clearance action was restrained and appropriate. I thank the police for fulfilling their duties at difficult times. I urge residents not to direct their anger at the police,” Lee said.
Organizers countered that the police themselves attempted to incite violence to discredit the rally, as summarized in the HKFP account of a plainclothes police officer bizarrely jogging through the crowd with a windshield wiper. According to the HKFP:
In widely circulated clips, he was seen cornered by protesters at the top of an escalator near an entrance.
In social media posts on Thursday, the police said it refuted claims the officer was disguised as a protester, tried to open a gate using a hoe, and was inciting protesters to charge.
The statement added that the officer was on his way to work at the station when a number of protesters obstructed his path, causing him to pick up a traffic cone and windshield wiper for self-defense purposes.
“Police emphasize that the officer has neither disguised as a protestor nor made any incitement,” a Facebook statement read. “Police [express its] utmost regret over the intentional spread of rumors and castigates the rumourmongers.”
The Hong Kong Journalist Association complained on Thursday that protesters harassed a television news cameraman by shining a flashlight into his eyes and camera lens, then using an umbrella to block his camera while he was verbally harassed. Some protesters reportedly apologized to the cameraman later for the way he was treated.
“We appeal to the people to express views in a rational manner and not to obstruct media reporting, and also to respect the reporting rights of journalists,” the association said.
The cameraman might have been harassed because the demonstrators are very conscious of government efforts to identify them and monitor their activities, a strategy they see as crucial to the dissolution of the 2014 pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement.” The new protesters favor dark clothing and masks to make themselves difficult to identify and avoid using unsecured electronic systems that could be used to track their movements.
Hundreds of demonstrators rallied again in the morning, marching to the consulates of G20 notions to urge them to speak out against the extradition bill. The Chinese government has decreed Hong Kong cannot be discussed at the G20 summit.