A small determined group of protesters remained at Hong Kong Airport on Wednesday, which was operating normally today after the Airport Authority won a court injunction to prevent people from disrupting flights following clashes with riot police overnight.

About 90 flights had been canceled, but services had resumed at check-in counters and only about 20 to 30 protesters remained in the arrival hall.

The Authority said people would be banned from protesting or going to events outside designated areas, such as the corners of the arrival hall in Terminal 1.

A notice outlining the injunction was posted at about 2pm local time, with metal barriers set at the entrance of Terminals 1 and 2. Only people with boarding passes or tickets would be allowed in, it said.

Departure hall at Hong Kong airport was back to normal after clashes between police and protesters on Tuesday night. Photo: Asia Times

Soul-searching after ‘spies’ bashed

Protesters opposed to changes to the city’s extradition law have staged a sit-in at the airport since Friday. The rally was initially peaceful but turned ugly overnight after protesters blocked the entrance to the departure area and flights were canceled for a second night.

Hong Kong Airport is one of the world’s busiest and usually handles over 200,000 passengers a day. The reaction from people trying to get on flights was mixed, with some expressing sympathy towards the protesters, and others were visibly annoyed at the disruption. Some protesters apologized while people who joined the sit-in said some had tried to set up channels for passengers to board their planes but there were too many people and no staff from the Airport Authority to help.

The injunction came after clashes between protesters and riot police late on Tuesday night as angry protesters held – and assaulted – two mainland Chinese men whom they believed to be undercover security agents.

Scenes of pro-democracy protesters beating the men at the airport accused of being infiltrators shocked people on both sides and sparked soul-searching within the movement over whether a minority of radicals are undermining their cause.

Debate appeared on web forums used by protesters – with one group even issuing an apology – after the chaotic scenes on Tuesday night revealed a paranoia about undercover police reaching new heights.

In separate instances during the airport occupation, two men found themselves at the mercy of a mob. One was accused of being a mainland police officer and another of being a spy masquerading as a journalist. Both were detained, had their limbs bound by zip-ties and were beaten until crowds of fellow demonstrators and firemen managed to usher them to waiting ambulances.

Riot police used pepper spray and one officer even drew his gun to disperse a mob of protesters who knocked him to the ground.

However, some of the protesters who remained in the terminal suspected the clashes were deliberately instigated by outsiders.

The end result was five people arrested for unlawful assembly, alleged possession of offensive weapons, assaulting police, breaching the peace – and more outrage, including calls on radio for a curfew to be imposed in the city.

A man’s hands are secured with cable ties as he sits on a luggage trolley during protests at Hong Kong Airport on Tuesday night. Photo: RTHK screen grab

Media outlets on the mainland voiced condemnation of the protesters after the airport violence, describing the beating of the two men as outrageous and “terrorist-like”.

China later claimed that one of the men was a traveler from the mainland and the other a reporter for The Global Times. The Beijing paper – one of the government’s most outspoken mouthpieces – wrote yesterday that the protesters were “seeking to ruin Hong Kong’s future‘.

Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council and other agencies also slammed the violence, saying it would severely damage the city’s image and hurt the feelings of people on the mainland.

ReadHK police storm airport as mob holds ‘suspects’ 

The protests have dragged on for more than two months. Millions of people have taken part in street rallies, demonstrations and occupations in the biggest challenge to China’s rule of the semi-autonomous city since its 1997 handover from Britain.

Initially sparked by opposition to a planned law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, the protests have quickly evolved into a much broader campaign for democratic freedoms, and to stop the growing influence of China’s authoritarian rulers in the semi-autonomous city.

Public anger over the police’s alleged excessive use of force soared after a series of controversial incidents last weekend, including the shooting of a young woman in the face in Tsim Sha Tsui on Sunday, which looks likely to blind her in one eye.

The stepped-up crackdown and use of undercover police from the mainland, amid claims of protesters being set up for offenses they did not commit, spurred more than 5,000 people to occupy the airport on Monday, when many wore eye-patches in solidarity with the woman shot in the face.

UN warning

Yesterday, Michelle Bachelet, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, voiced a warning from Geneva, saying her office had reviewed credible evidence of law enforcement officials employing weapons “in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards.”

“Officials can be seen firing tear gas canisters into crowded, enclosed areas and directly at individual protesters on multiple occasions, creating a considerable risk of death or serious injury,” her spokesman said.

The UN rights office urged Hong Kong authorities “to investigate these incidents immediately, to ensure security personnel comply with the rules of engagement” and to “act with restraint, to ensure that the right of those who are expressing their views peacefully are respected and protected.”

With flights suspended on Monday for the first time in the airport’s history – and the attention of people all around the world, the protesters may have suddenly felt they had hit a vital nerve that could deliver the outcomes they desire – a reduction in the severity of charges laid against people in custody, for city Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down and for changes to the extradition bill to be scrapped.

However, Lam and Beijing have given little ground and there is no sign of this changing.

The Airport Authority’s notice about the injunction. Photo: RTHK

With reporting by AFP