Protesters returned to the streets Sunday as thousands turned out to decry Beijing’s planned national security for Hong Kong.
At least 180 people were arrested in Causeway Bay and Wan Chai for offenses including participating in an authorized assembly and disorderly conduct in a public place, according to police.
The protest was one of the largest in months, a reaction to a looming national security law that Beijing is pushing to enact in the city. The law, which many see as the latest and most severe clampdown on the cherished liberties that differentiate Hong Kong and mainland China, will reportedly target seditious activity, foreign interference, terrorism, and subversion against the central government.
Pro-establishment authorities say that the law is necessary to put an end to violent protests in Hong Kong, which began last summer over a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to China—where the legal system is notoriously opaque—to stand trial.
— Joanne Wong (@JOceanW) May 24, 2020
Initial plans for a 1pm march from Sogo department store were quickly thwarted when police fired tear gas at a crowd of protesters setting road blocks after the demonstration began. Protesters moved westwards in the direction of Wan Chai, chanting protest slogans including “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” and “Hong Kong independence is the only way out.”
Masked protesters also dismantled barricades and dug up bricks from the pavement, while some set fires and smashed traffic lights. Video shows protesters smashing the window of Comme des Garcons, a fashion brand protesters deem to be pro-police.
Dozens of rounds of tear gas were fired throughout the day. Police also deployed a water cannon truck for the first time in months.
— James Pomfret (@jamespomfret) May 24, 2020
A 40-year-old man was badly beaten by protesters after getting into an argument with them. The man was identified by media as a lawyer who had supported a controversial law banning the use of face masks in October.
“Police strongly condemn the rioters for injuring others and causing violent disruption. Not only are these atrocious acts in breach of the law, but they are also not to be condoned by any civilized society,” a police statement read, adding that protesters also threw bricks and umbrellas at officers on duty. At least four police officers were sent to hospital.
Clashes between protesters and police were some of the most intense since the COVID-19 outbreak, during which demonstrations were largely halted. Despite its proximity to mainland China, the city has seen relative success in tamping down the coronavirus—authorities have been reporting strings of virus-free days since April.
Protests are expected to escalate in the lead-up to Beijing passing the national security law. According to popular online forum LIHKG, protesters plan to stage a protest outside the Legislative Council on Wednesday as lawmakers deliberate legislation that could criminalize disrespect of China’s national anthem.