Hong Kong police arrested five people on Sunday night in connection to a late-night standoff in Mong Kok after protesters occupied roads after the end of another anti-extradition-bill rally on Sunday afternoon.
Rally organizers said more than 230,000 people took part in the protest, while police said up to 56,000 attended in Kowloon. It was the fourth protest in Hong Kong in less than a month attended by a large crowd of protesters and the first ever held in Mong Kok.
The protesters marched from Tsim Sha Tsui to the Hong Kong West Kowloon Station – the terminus for high-speed trains to Guangzhou and Shenzhen. There is a border control point between Hong Kong and mainland China inside the station.
Organizers decided on a new rally route because Tsim Sha Tsui is a popular tourist site, especially for mainland Chinese. They said they wanted tourists from the mainland to know about their opposition to the now-suspended extradition bill.
Protesters carried banners in simplified Chinese characters and chanted slogan in Putonghua to get their messages out. However, the police banned them from marching along Canton Road, where many Chinese tourists go to luxury shops.
Most of the participants joined the protest to voice dissatisfaction with the extradition amendment bill, the lack of response from city chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her administration. They shouted chants to demand the right to vote for the city chief and Legislative Council.
Police deployed over 2,000 officers to keep the rally in order, Ming Pao Daily reported, unlike the demonstration last Monday and two other rallies in June. The rally on July 1 descended into clashes outside the city parliament, which was briefly taken over late that night.
The MTR Corporation suspended sales of tickets for high-speed trains operating on Sunday afternoon and for the rest of the day. Only travellers with valid tickets could enter the station, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.
The rally covered a three-kilometer route and ended at 7pm. Organizers told the protesters to leave once they arrived at the end.
But several hundred broke through police defences into Canton Road and walked along Salisbury Road to Nathan Road. They deviated from the planned protest route and headed to Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok.
A standoff developed between this ‘splinter group’ and police on Nathan Road after they arrived in Mong Kok.
At around 11pm, police set up a cordon in the area and tried to disperse the protesters with batons and shields.
After repeated warnings urging the protesters to leave, police said some protesters resisted. They arrested five people for allegedly assaulting police and obstructing an officer executing his duty, according to a government statement.
Live video from local broadcasters showed that police set up a cordon at the junction of Nathan Road and Argyle Street, while more officers were deployed to the adjacent Shantung Street and Portland Street to besiege the area. That meant the protesters, and even passers-by, had no way to leave.
Some people suffered head injuries and bleeding after being hit by batons.
Some police were also seen to be not wearing warrant cards when dispersing the protesters. One police officer who had baton, shield and helmet on was not wearing a uniform. He told people that police did not need a warrant card when at such an operation.
Lawmakers and journalists complained about the police’s tough handling. They said officers used excessive force, assaulted reporters and stopped journalists and cameramen from reporting what was going on.
The Journalists Association and the Press Photographers Association issued a joint statement on Monday accusing the police of obstructing the press and assaulting journalists during the clearance operation.
Despite repeatedly informing authorities that they were journalists and being cooperative when the police asked them to retreat, police still used shields to push and shove the journalists and their cameras, shouting at them and physically attacking them. They said the officers’ actions “seriously hampered press freedom,” the statement said.
Lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho from the Civic Party witnessed the journalists being barred from a scene where officers had allegedly pinned down a protester. He also said that some officers had been shouting verbal abuse at lawmakers.
Mong Kok is one of the busiest districts in Hong Kong. It is a mixture of old and new buildings, with street markets and shopping malls. Mong Kok was also the scene of clashes – known as the “Fishball Revolution” (in reference to the popular street food) – between people and police in 2016. It began as a crackdown on street hawkers but descended into a “riot”. More than 60 people were arrested, including activist Edward Leung Tin-kei, who ended up being jailed for six years.
During 2014 Umbrella Movement, Mong Kok was one of the three districts occupied by protesters for weeks who demanded the right to vote for the officials who run the city government.