Hong Kong Braces for More Protests After Wave of Arrests

Hong Kong Braces for More Protests After Wave of Arrests

8 mins read

HONG KONG — Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong were expected to begin a 13th straight weekend of demonstrations on Saturday, over police objections and a day after several high-profile activists and pro-democracy lawmakers were arrested.

Tensions and political speculation were running high, partly because Saturday is the fifth anniversary of the day Beijing announced a plan for limited democracy in the territory. That decision angered many in Hong Kong and triggered months of large-scale protests in 2014.

Those protests, known as the Umbrella Movement, now seem almost sedate compared with the demonstrations that have engulfed the semiautonomous city this summer, many of which have led to street clashes and clouds of tear gas.

The police have banned a march planned for Saturday that was meant to mark the anniversary. It was meant to be another of the large, overwhelmingly peaceful marches that have punctuated the summer — organized by an established advocacy group, usually with police permission, and attended by hundreds of thousands of people, including children.

Two weeks ago, the police banned a march organized by the same group, the Civil Human Rights Front, but hundreds of thousands of people defied them and took to the streets. The group said at the time that the march “continues the will” of those who had turned out for a particularly large march in June.

[Beijing pledged “one country, two systems” when it took back Hong Kong. Many fear it is eroding freedoms.]

But on Friday, after the police banned the march, the Civil Human Rights Front said it was canceling it out of concern for protesters’ safety.

“When peaceful people come out again and again, and our peaceful demands, our legitimate demands are not heard, it’s human nature that Hong Kong people or any other people will become more radical,” said Bonnie Leung, a prominent member of the group. “And it’s exactly what the Civil Human Rights Front does not want to see. That is why we continue to request to march peacefully, but they are not giving us the chance.”

Many protesters had already said on social media that they planned to march with or without police permission.

Also on Friday, the police arrested at least three prominent democracy activists, including Joshua Wong, a student leader of the Umbrella Movement, and Agnes Chow, a fellow activist. The police said the two had been arrested on unauthorized assembly charges related to a June 21 protest in which thousands of people surrounded the police headquarters.

“In the face of white terror, no one is spared,” Mr. Wong told reporters after being released on bail on Friday, on condition of an 11 p.m. curfew. “This is a time when we need unity more than ever.”

Three lawmakers from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy legislative minority — Cheng Chung-tai, Au Nok-hin and Jeremy Tam — were also arrested on Friday, on charges related to their participation in the protests this summer. As of Saturday morning, their Facebook pages suggested that they were still being held.

Hong Kong’s political crisis, the worst since Britain handed the colony back to China in 1997, was set off by widespread anger over a bill that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial. The measure, which critics said could be used to target activists, was suspended, but not withdrawn as protesters have demanded.

[How the protests in Hong Kong have evolved, with changing tactics, goals and more violence.]

Saturday’s march was meant to proceed from the Hong Kong’s central business district to the Chinese government’s local liaison office, as a means of focusing public attention on the five-year anniversary of Beijing’s decision to limit elections.

The liaison office was vandalized by a hard-core group of protesters last month, prompting China to denounce them — and to place a plastic shield around a national crest outside the building, which protesters had spattered with ink. Since then, the police have kept protesters from approaching the building, sometimes by firing rounds of tear gas.

Street violence has come in fits and starts during this summer’s protests, and life in Hong Kong has otherwise proceeded relatively normally. But there is growing fear among a wide cross-section of Hong Kong society that the violence, which has included a mob attack on protesters, could eventually lead to deaths.

Some protesters have in recent weeks thrown bricks, firebombs and other objects at the police, who as of mid-August had fired more than 1,800 rounds of tear gas, plus rubber bullets and beanbag rounds, to disperse crowds.

Last weekend, the police used water cannon trucks for the first time since the protests began in June, and a few officers drew pistols on protesters, some of whom were charging at them with sticks. One officer fired a warning shot into the air after one of his colleagues fell to the ground.

Carrie Lam, the territory’s chief executive, said on Tuesday that the government was looking into “all laws in Hong Kong — if they can provide a legal means to stop violence and chaos.” Mrs. Lam was answering a question about whether she was considering use of Hong Kong’s sweeping Emergency Regulations Ordinance, a colonial-era law that grants Hong Kong’s leader broad powers to “make any regulations whatsoever which he may consider desirable in the public interest.”

On Thursday, the Chinese military sent fresh troops to its Hong Kong garrison. Although the military called it a routine rotation, the move fueled speculation that Beijing might be quietly expanding its presence in the territory.

Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy lawmaker in Hong Kong’s legislature, said on Friday that she feared the government was setting a trap for the protesters.

“The government is anticipating, are they not, inciting chaos and probably mayhem tomorrow,” she told reporters. “As a result that would give them the excuse to invoke the so-called Emergency Whatnot Law in Hong Kong. Is that what Carrie Lam is planning?”

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