Hong Kong police arrested almost 300 people— including a prominent opposition activist—after protesters returned to the streets to demonstrate against Beijing’s controversial national security law and a decision to delay local elections for “public health reasons” over the global coronavirus pandemic.
Armed officers dressed in riot gear fired rounds of pepper balls at protesters in dramatic footage that went viral on social media. In one video, police pin a young girl, believed to be around 12-years-old, to the ground as she tried to flee the protest area.
The elections were due to take place on Sunday, September 6, but were postponed by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who defended her decision on public health grounds during a fresh wave of coronavirus infections in the semi-autonomous territory. But critics slammed the postponement, saying Lam was using the pandemic to hold onto power and prevent the public from voting.
Prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who was on the ground on Sunday, described being tailed and followed by unknown cars.
“On the day which was supposed to have been our election, I was tailed by four unknown cars again for more than 1.5 hours,” Wong wrote in a series of tweets detailing the incident.
Another leading opposition figure, Tam Tak-chi of the political coalition People Power (PP) group, was apprehended by police on Sunday and arrested on suspicion of “uttering seditious words,” reported the South China Morning Post.
The new national security law, imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in July, criminalizes acts like secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces and threatens a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Hong Kong Police Force senior superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah confirmed the arrests to reporters on Sunday.
“A man has been arrested for inciting hatred and contempt against the government,” Li said. “He organized 29 street booths claiming to be COVID-19 prevention talks from June to August and uttered seditious words to the public.”
The arrests come less than a month after police detained Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai and other high-profile critics of Beijing under the new national security law. On Friday, September 4, the United Nations published a rare, public letter to the Chinese government in Beijing, voicing its concerns over the law.