Mere hours after Hong Kong’s more relaxed social distancing measures came into force yesterday, tensions erupted across the city as politicians clashed within the Legislative Complex and anti-government demonstrations ramped up across the city.
With the slowing rate of new COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong – no locally transmitted infections have been recorded in 20 days – the city has seen a surge in pro-democracy demonstrations in recent weeks. Yet, with social distancing laws still in place, police have been accused of selectively targeting pro-democracy protesters under the guise of enforcing the government’s anti-epidemic measures.
Just 13 hours after social distancing rules were relaxed yesterday, protesters congregated in IFC for a “Lunch with You” demonstration, during which participants chant common protest refrains like “Five demands, not one less” and sing “Glory to Hong Kong”. Though the lunchtime event often attracts a police presence, previous iterations have seen the crowd dispersing without much commotion or violence.
At around 1:15pm, 15 minutes after the sing-along was scheduled to start, dozens of police entered the mall and began cordoning off large areas whilst attempting to disperse groups across all floors.
Police stopped and searched a male journalist – identified by HKFP as Nelson Tang of the HKBU Student Union Editorial Board – despite his assertions that he had a right to report on the protest. Police detained Tang with force, against the protestations of several journalists who were on the scene.
As local reporters moved towards Tang and the officers in an effort to document the struggle, a brief skirmish broke out between police and the press, during which police used pepper spray against reporters. According to HKFP, Tang was taken away in a police car.
At least three citizens were fined HKD2,000HKD for breaking social distancing laws during the lunchtime protest, one of whom was pro-democracy lawmaker Tsang Kin-Shing of the Eastern District Council.
Meanwhile, a controversial House Committee at the Legislative Council saw opposing political camps fight for control of the floor after pro-establishment heavyweight Starry Lee took the chair over an hour before the meeting was scheduled to start. Lee was surrounded by a ring of her allies and several LegCo security staff, who prevented pan-democrats from accessing the podium. Over the afternoon, 10 pan-democratic lawmakers were ejected from the chamber against their will, resulting in one democrat going to the ER while another was carried out on a stretcher. Both sides traded insults over the course of the meeting, with independent democrat Claudia Mo calling Lee “a vicious Beijing little worm”.
The chaos in the government only served to fan the flames among the pro-democracy crowd, who made rallying calls via social media for groups to gather across the city for “Dinner With You” protests. At 6pm, around a hundred protesters flocked to Pacific Place in Admiralty – located just minutes away from the Legislative Council building – to chant slogans and wave flags. Despite the police presence outside the mall, officers made no effort to break up the demonstration and both protesters and press began trickling out by 8pm.
Demonstrators also gathered in Tseung Kwan O to mark the eighth month after student Alex Chow’s death, while others staged “Dinner With You” protests in Mong Kok and Tuen Mun. In Mong Kok, where some of the most violent clashes over the last year have taken place, there was a sense of apprehension in the air.
Early on in the night, protesters set up barricades on the road, which were cleared by the police. Police vans were stationed on every intersection of Nathan Road up to Tsim Sha Tsui, while a significant number of riot police officers remained on the ground throughout the night. But aside from some protesters being fined for social distancing violations, the night petered out without incident.
Sing-along demonstrations have continued today, with hundreds turning out to shopping malls in Tai Po and Diamond Hill at 7pm to protest the government and yesterday’s events in LegCo. Riot police turned up to both malls and dispersed protesters. No arrests have been reported so far.
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