Arrests made over Hong Kong protests, legislature break-in
Johnson Lai, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, July 3, 2019 5:59AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 3, 2019 1:44PM EDT
HONG KONG -- Police said they had arrested 13 people after the protests on Monday's anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China, including one man accused of storming the legislature building in a break-in involving hundreds of pro-democracy protesters who vandalized offices and the main chamber.
The local man surnamed Poon was arrested in Mong Kok and accused of assaulting police, criminal destruction, misconduct in public places and forced entry of the Legislative Council Complex, police said late Wednesday night.
Eleven men and a woman were arrested in connection with a different protest that took place Monday morning. They face various charges including possession of offensive weapons, unlawful assembly, assaulting a police officer, obstructing a police officer and failing to carry an identity document. The brief statement did not describe the offensive weapons or provide further details.
Pro-democracy protesters rushed police barricades around the time of a morning flag-raising ceremony marking the 22nd anniversary of the former British colony's handover to China in 1997. Police used shields, batons and pepper spray to drive them back.
That afternoon, while hundreds of thousands of people were participating in a peaceful march marking the anniversary, a few hundred protesters began trying to break into the locked legislative building by smashing thick glass walls and prying open metal security curtains. When they poured into the building late that night, they spray-painted slogans on the walls and caused extensive damage.
In shocking scenes Monday and early Tuesday, the protesters vented their anger and frustration at a government that hasn't responded to their demands. They stood on the desks in the legislature's main chamber and climbed high to cover the city's official emblem with black spray paint.
On Wednesday, workers boarded up shattered windows and police carted away evidence for the criminal investigation. The government showed journalists the extent of the damage on a tour of the first two floors of the building.
At almost every turn, slogans had been spray-painted on the walls in Chinese and English. "Destroy the Chinese Communist Party," read one. "Hong Kong is not China" said another.
Papers, rubbish and umbrellas -- a protest symbol in Hong Kong used to ward off sun, rain and pepper spray -- were strewn in lobbies and rooms. Parts of wooden picture frames were all that remained of portraits of legislative leaders that hung on the wall.
Steve Vickers, a former head of criminal intelligence for the Royal Hong Kong Police, predicted a severe crackdown that will result in long jail terms.
"I am personally sympathetic to the great majority of the Hong Kong demonstrators and their motivation, but the hardcore elements and agitators involved are becoming increasingly desperate," said Vickers, who heads Steve Vickers and Associates, a political and corporate risk consultancy. "Their actions are counterproductive to many Hong Kong peoples' genuine democratic aspirations."
Police also announced two other sets of arrests Wednesday.
They said five men and one woman were arrested for various incidents during a public meeting on Sunday, when supporters of police staged a large rally. Some clashed with anti-government protesters and members of the media. They were charged with possession of offensive weapons, assault causing bodily harm, common assault and fighting in a public place.
Also Wednesday, police said six men and two women had been arrested for posting personal data about police officers on the internet.
Officers and their family members have been threatened since their addresses and official ID card numbers were published, Superintendent Mohammed Swalikh of the Cyber Security bureau said.
He did not say whether police believe the disclosures were related to the protests, which were set off by proposed legislation to change Hong Kong's extradition laws and have broadened into a demonstration of Hong Kong residents' fears of growing Chinese control in the territory.
Protesters also are demanding an independent investigation into a crackdown on demonstrations June 12 in which officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds blocking major city streets. The tactics used were harsher than usual for Hong Kong, which police have said were justified after some protesters turned violent. Dozens were injured in the clashes, both protesters and police.
The extradition legislation would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China to face what critics fear would be unfair and politicized trials and would target opponents of China's ruling Communist Party. The law's opponents see it as an erosion of the rights guaranteed to Hong Kong for 50 years after the handover.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended the bill and apologized for how it was handled, but protesters want it to be formally withdrawn and for Lam to resign.
In Beijing, the Chinese government lashed back at remarks by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the causes of the anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Hunt appeared to be "basking in the faded glory of British colonialism and obsessed with lecturing others."
Hunt had said that Hong Kong authorities should not use the vandalism in the legislative building as a "pretext for repression." He said the authorities need to "understand the root causes of what happened, which is a deep-seated concern by people in Hong Kong that their basic freedoms are under attack."
Geng said Britain has no authority to discuss matters in the territory. He noted Hong Kong was under British rule for 155 years, run by governors appointed by the British crown, rather than being an autonomous democracy.
The protesters in Hong Kong are demanding direct election of the city's leader. Lam was chosen by an elite committee of mainly pro-Beijing electors.
"The U.K. considers itself as a guardian which is nothing but a delusion," Geng said. "It is just shameless to say that Hong Kong's freedoms are negotiated for them by the British side."
Associated Press journalists Ken Moritsugu and Katie Tam in Hong Kong and Sally Ho in Seattle, Washington, contributed to this report.