Prominent Hong Kong activist Ventus Lau was arrested after a rally he organized at Chater Garden yesterday was marred by violence, with three police officers injured after being hit in the head with sticks and other objects after they called for a premature end to the assembly.
The resulting chaos, which had been largely absent in recent days amid a lull in the city’s months-long pro-democracy protest movement, saw police fire tear gas for the first time in two weeks. Lau was arrested in the evening and later taken to North Point police station for allegedly breaching the rules set out for the assembly as protesters spilled onto side streets and set fires.
“As a result of the rampant rioting, we had no choice but to ask the organizers to halt the public event,” police Superintendent Ng Lok-chun said in a press briefing at 9:30pm last night.
Police had issued a letter of no objection for the assembly in Chater Garden, but rejected plans for a march from Central to Causeway Bay.
Organizers said around 150,000 had joined the rally, while the police, whose crowd figures are routinely much lower, put the turnout at 11,680 at the gathering’s peak.
The assembly — which started around 3pm, and called for sanctions against Hong Kong officials accused of abusing human rights, including under the newly passed U.S. Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act — was peaceful until black bloc protesters began building roadblocks, smashing traffic lights, and defacing nearby buildings.
Police sent a community relations officer to demand that Lau call off the rally at around 4pm, telling him that he had failed to prevent the unrest.
Speaking to the press yesterday, Lau said that he had demanded the officer present his warrant card after he asked Lau to cut the rally short, maintaining that the officer refused to do so until well after tensions were flaring, leading to a confrontation with protesters that escalated into violence.
“He kept refusing to show his police ID card until things became out of control,” Lau said. “If the police officer did not terminate our assembly and refuse to show his warrant card, I believe the conflict would not have flared up.”
The officer and two of his colleagues were ultimately attacked by protesters with sticks and other weapons, and were left bleeding from head wounds.
Protesters chased the three officers to Cheung Kong Centre, then besieged and assaulted them for 30 seconds until riot police intervened.
Minutes later, tear gas was fired on Des Voeux Road to disperse the crowd after protesters had set fires, erected more barricades, and dug up paving stones near the HSBC headquarters.
Lau was immediately arrested following his press briefing.
Some protesters set fires on Ice House Street as they fled towards Admiralty, and by 5pm, some 300 people who had not moved towards Admiralty were trapped inside Statue Square as police locked down all roads, giving demonstrators access to only two entrances to Central MTR station.
Meanwhile, police stopped and frisked dozens of people at the junction of Des Voeux Road and Pedder Street and made some arrests, and also stopped and searched people in Admiralty and Causeway Bay.
Lau criticized the searches as violations of the freedom of the press and the right to free expression. In response, police Superintendent Ng defended the action as “certainly in the interest of public safety and order.”
He also called Lau’s version of events “ridiculous and irresponsible,” adding that he was arrested for “contravening the conditions stated in the letter of no objection,” and had “repeatedly obstructed on-scene police officers.”
He added that at least four police officers sustained injuries to their heads and limbs.
“This happened in broad daylight, and right in front of the event organizer himself,” he said. “We once again strongly condemn rioters for launching such violent attacks on our officers.”
At least eight people were arrested yesterday over offenses including “possession of offensive weapons” and “possession of instruments fit for unlawful assembly or purposes” after allegedly being found to be in possession of hammers, spanners, and extendable batons.
At around 8pm, police said rioters hurled petrol bombs at the police reporting room of Tai Po Station, but no once was injured, and as of 11pm, protesters had built roadblocks in Mongkok.
A middle-aged man who tried to intervene was beaten up, and was filmed in the area bleeding from the head as volunteer first-aiders tended to his injuries.
The police arrested several people at the scene, and also drenched reporters with pepper spray.
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