HONG KONG • Police in Hong Kong arrested at least 53 people after scuffles erupted during a relatively peaceful protest yesterday against a planned national security law to be implemented by the mainland Chinese government.
Armed riot police were present as a crowd of several hundred moved from Jordan to Mong Kok in the Kowloon district, staging what was intended as a “silent protest” against the planned law.
But chants and slogans were directed at police and later scuffles broke out in Mong Kok, prompting police to use pepper spray to subdue parts of the crowd.
Police said on Facebook that 53 people had been arrested and charged with unlawful assembly, adding that some protesters had earlier tried to blockade roads in the area.
“The government wants to shut us up and to kick us out,” said one protester, Mr Roy Chan.
“We must stand up and strike down all those people who deprive Hong Kong people’s freedom,” the 44-year-old added.
China has said the law will target only a small group of troublemakers as it tackles separatism, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong.
But the law has also raised concerns that Beijing is further eroding the extensive autonomy promised when Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997.
The protest came a day after Hong Kong police refused permission for an annual march usually held on July 1 to mark the city’s 1997 handover, citing a ban on large gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute for Reuters showed the national security legislation is opposed by a majority of people in the financial centre. The survey also showed support for protests dropping to 51 per cent this month, compared with 58 per cent in a poll conducted for Reuters in March. Opposition to them rose to 34 per cent from 28 per cent.