Hong Kong police confirmed on Friday the arrest of nearly 100 minors during law enforcement attacks on peaceful protesters this week, actions that resulted in nearly 400 arrests.
Many of those arrested who are not minors are young Hongkongers, students at local high schools and colleges, many wearing their school uniforms as they were arrested.
Hong Kong residents took the streets of at least eight neighborhoods on Wednesday and Thursday, the South China Morning Post reported, to protest multiple attempts by the Communist Party to take over nominally democratic Hong Kong. Beijing’s National People’s Congress (NPC) passed a law this week that would allow the Communist Party to arrest anyone in Hong Kong, not only residents, if accused of threatening the “national security” of communist China. Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) is simultaneously trying to pass a law that would criminalize and punish with prison sentences “disrespect” of the Communist Party anthem, “March of the Volunteers.”
The Morning Post said on Friday that among the 396 people arrested between Wednesday and Thursday demanding respect for the “One Country, Two Systems” policy China agreed to in 1997, nearly half were students, and about 100 were children under 18. The 396 number is significantly higher than what reports had estimated on Wednesday when local media suggested that nearly 300 people had been arrested. At the time, police confirmed that those arrested were between the ages of 16 and 60.
Protests against the Chinese “national security” law – which also included chants invoking the “five demands” that fueled a year’s worth of protests that began last summer – began to organize around noon local time Wednesday. Protesters attempted to follow social distancing guidelines in place to prevent the spread of the Chinese coronavirus, which currently prevent more than eight people from gathering in public. Images from the most contentious protests spots in Hong Kong showed protesters wearing masks and attempting to keep their distance – a sharp contrast from what police forced them to do. In response to the protest in the Causeway Bay neighborhood, police arrested dozens of students, most visibly young students, and forced them to huddle together, amassing tightly on the ground before being shoved into a bus:
The protesters’ “five demands” are freedom for political prisoners, an end to calling peaceful protests “riots,” full suffrage to elect regional leaders, an independent investigation into police brutality, and the withdrawal of a proposed LegCo bill to allow China to extradite anyone present in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s officials yielded to the last demand after months of protests last year, prompting protesters to create the chant “five demands, not one less.”
The Chinese “national security” law will enable Beijing authorities to do much of what the extradition law would have allowed. While the NPC passes laws before they are written as “draft” legislation, China has made public that the law will allow Beijing to arrest anyone in Hong Kong for “crimes” such as “attempts to split the country, subvert state power, organize and perpetrate terrorist activities, including other actions that seriously endanger national security.”
The broad descriptions of these “crimes,” critics fear, allows for the criminalization of nearly every identifiable trait of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement. The Communist Party can, for example, interpret the slogan – “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times” – as an attempt to “split the country.” Hong Kong protesters often also carry the flags of the United Kingdom and America to protests, acts that may now be deemed criminal foreign interference and result in arrest.
Widely despised Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam pleaded with her city’s people on Friday to support the law, despite its clear detrimental effects on them.
“External forces have intensified their interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, passed laws relating to Hong Kong and flagrantly glorified the illegal acts of radicals,” Lam said in a statement. “Hong Kong has become a gaping hole in national security, and our city’s prosperity and stability are at risk. I appeal for your full understanding and staunch support for the Decision passed by the National People’s Congress.”
Lam had unsettled pro-democracy Hongkongers this week prior to the bill’s passing by appearing to admit that China would soon erode the democratic pillars of Hong Kong society. As a British possession for decades, Hong Kong developed a thriving civil liberty culture; as a capitalist possession, it is China’s most lucrative hub of business.
“Some of the things you have said about mainland [Chinese] agencies coming down to arrest people undergoing protests and they will be arrested for calling the chief executive to step down – at the moment are [in] your imagination,” Lam said on Tuesday. “We are a very free society. For the time being, people have this freedom to say whatever they want to say.”
Lam has also deployed some underlings to calm Hong Kong’s people regarding the law. During an RTHK radio program on Friday, Hong Kong Executive Councillor Ronny Tong, in his capacity as a government executive, insisted that a law allowing Chinese Communist Party authorities to silence local residents was not “the end of the world.”
“The government has made it plain that it would use all of its efforts to ensure that that consultation would enable us to truly reflect the worries and concerns of the people in Hong Kong,” Tong promised.
While the communist NPC, a Congress with no significant opposition in power, swiftly passed the “national security” law, Hong Kong’s LegCo has remained largely paralyzed this week as its attempts to pass the national anthem law have faced intense opposition from pro-democracy lawmakers.
LegCo failed to be able to hold a session on Friday as pro-democracy lawmakers boycotted a House Committee meeting, incensed not just about the national anthem law but about the government appointing pro-China lawmaker Starry Lee the chairwoman in charge of setting the legislature’s agenda. The largely stoic protests on Friday in the chamber contrasted significantly from last week’s, when a fight broke out on the LegCo floor after pro-China lawmakers installed Lee over the protests of the pro-democracy camp. It also appeared calmer than the incident on Thursday in which pro-democracy legislator Ted Hui threw a bottle full of “a brownish fetid substance” on the LegCo floor in protest, resulting in the abrupt end of that day’s session.