Arrests and rising tension as Hong Kong prepares for protests on China's national day
Authorities have arrested at least two high-profile activists as Hong Kong prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Tuesday.
A large demonstration organised by the group Civil Human Rights Front, which has organised previous mass protests, has been banned by the police, but protesters have vowed to turn out on 1 October to show their anger and frustration at the erosion of rights under Chinese rule.
On Monday activist Ventus Lau and actor Gregory Wong were arrested on charges related to an incident on 1 July when protesters barged into the legislature building and vandalised the chamber. Wong was accused of “conspiring to commit criminal damage” and “entering or remaining in the Legislative Council chamber”, said the pro-democracy Demosisto party, while Lau was accused of the same offences, according to the timeline of his Facebook account.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and a delegation of more than 240 people, including pro-China politicians, business leaders and media bosses flew to Beijing to attend Tuesday’s celebrations.
In Beijing, president Xi Jinping and other top leaders paid tribute to Mao Zedong at his mausoleum and presented flowers at the monument of the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square on Monday, which is Martyrs’ Day in China.
Chinese authorities have tightened security in the run-up to the national day celebrations. Propaganda billboards and banners with patriotic messages have been hung across Beijing, and there is a heavy police presence in and around the capital as well as strict security controls at metro and railway stations. Traffic is being controlled on streets near Tiananmen Square, where a military parade and the ceremony are scheduled to take place. Even at hospitals, non-emergency operations have been called off.
Rights activists have been put under surveillance or forcibly taken out of Beijing to prevent them protesting and speaking to foreign media. Ding Zilin, 82, a founder of the Tiananmen mothers group whose son died in the military crackdown in 1989, and other members were told police would stand guard outside their homes, while dissident journalist Gao Yu and activist Hu Jia were made to travel outside Beijing. Others living outside the capital have also been harassed or lost contact with their friends.
In Hong Kong, Lau has organised many district protests in the past and has applied to hold a rally “Pray for Hong Kong” in the central business district on Monday evening, which is expected to be peaceful.
The intimidation of activists in the run-up to China’s national day went beyond Hong Kong. Singer and activist Denise Ho, who earlier this month urged members of the US Congress to pass legislation to combat human rights abuses in Hong Kong, was attacked in Taiwan on Sunday by a masked man who threw red paint at her at a rally in support of Hong Kong. Two Taiwanese men have been arrested.
Hong Kong has been gripped by a wave of protests since June, sparked by a controversial extradition bill, but the movement has morphed into a wider and increasingly violent anti-government movement as animosity has grown between protesters and police.
Demonstrations entered their 17th week on Sunday in what is the city’s most serious political crisis in decades. There were violent clashes in busy shopping and business districts as police used teargas, rubber bullets, pepper spray and water cannon against protesters, while activists hurled bricks and petrol bombs back at the police and started street fires. A police statement on Monday said an officer fired one warning shot into the sky after police were surrounded by protesters.
More than 100 protesters were arrested on Sunday, the South China Morning Post reported, quoting police sources.
Police have been using increasing force on protesters and even journalists. A 39-year-old Indonesian journalist sustained a serious eye injury after being shot in the face by a beanbag round or rubber bullet during Sunday’s protest, reported the paper. She was wearing a helmet and goggles at the time.
The authorities have made life difficult for protesters. On Sunday, the metro company MTR closed at least four stations along the demonstration route, and police occupied footbridges where protesters usually gather. Police were also stationed in front of a church where protesters have previously sought refuge, and searched people entering and leaving the church. Shopping centres and many shops also closed.