More than 300 people have been arrested in Hong Kong protests Wednesday, including nine accused of violating a new national security law that Western powers argue takes away the territory’s semi-autonomous status and gives China unprecedented power over the city.
Thousands gathered in Hong Kong’s Times Square on Wednesday to protest against the national security law, raising their hands in the air, chanting and displaying signage in favor of Hong Kong independence.
“More than 300 people have been arrested in #HongKong so far for [offenses] like unlawful assemblies, disorderly conduct in public places, furious driving, and breach of the #NationalSecurityLaw, which accounted for 9 arrests (5 males & 4 females),” the Hong Kong Police Force said in an update.
“Arrest action is underway. Stop breaking the law,” the agency tweeted in an earlier message.
Police shared photos of supposed contraband – including flyers and large signs that voiced support for Hong Kong’s independence – which were seized from protesters specifically charged with violating the national security law that criminalizes anti-government movements.
“Three females were arrested respectively for showing materials with #HKIndependence slogans in #CausewayBay, violating #NSL,” the agency wrote, sharing photos of pro-democracy leaflets and fliers. “Anyone who [organizes], plans, commits or participates in committing secession or undermining national unification shall be guilty of an [offense].”
Another female was arrested in Hong Kong’s upscale retail district known as Causeway Bay for showing material with a Hong Kong independence slogan. Hong Kong Police said it will take “resolute enforcement action” in accordance with the national security law.
Earlier on Wednesday, the agency announced its first arrest since the national security law came into force after a man was seen in Causeway Bay with a large Hong Kong Independence flag.
Protesters attempted to march toward the Wan Chai neighborhood but were intercepted by swarms of riot police. A video posted by a Bloomberg Asia showed a man who was down on the crowd being dragged by riot police before officers sealed off Jaffe Road in Wan Chai.
Hong Kong Police also shared bloody photos of a man’s shoulder and announced “an officer was stabbed in the arm by rioters holding sharp objects when he was taking arrest action. While the bystanders offered no helping hand, suspects fled. #HKPolice express the strongest condemnation against such violent act.”
WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTO
The agency raised a “purple warning flag” to notify protesters that chanting Hong Kong Independence slogans might be a breach in the new national security law. Officers were also seen firing a water cannon and deploying tear gas into the crowds, according to Reuters.
Beijing waited until after the national security law was passed Tuesday to release details.
The law punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
It also establishes a national security committee in Hong Kong under Beijing’s control and allows for those accused of offenses to be sent to the mainland for trial. Those who are not permanent residents of Hong Kong may be charged under the national security law as well, according to Chinese state media.
China’s ceremonial legislature known as the National People’s Congress (NPC) first endorsed the national security bill at the end of May, reigniting pro-democracy protests quelled for months during the coronavirus pandemic. The legislature deliberated for about a month before passing the national security bill into law on Tuesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that “Free Hong Kong was one of the world’s most stable, prosperous and dynamic cities. Now it’s just another communist-run city where its people will be subject to the party elites wins.”
“Indeed, this is already happening, security forces are already rounding up Hong Kong for daring to speak and think freely. The rule of law has been eviscerated. And as always, the Chinese Communist Party fears its own people, more than anything else,” Pompeo told reporters in Washington, D.C. “The United States is deeply concerned about the loss of sweeping provisions and the safety of everyone living in the territory, including Americans. Article 38 of the new law also purports to apply to offenses committed outside of Hong Kong by non-residents of Hong Kong. This likely includes Americans.”
“On Friday, we implemented visa restrictions on those responsible for the Hong Kong crackdown. On Monday, we announced that we would end defense equipment and dual-use technology exports of U.S. origin going to the territory. We will continue to implement President Trump’s directive to end Hong Kong’s special status, and other federal agencies are involved as well,” he said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday extended his offer to some 350,000 people with a British overseas passport, as well as 2.5 million people who are eligible to apply for one, to come live in the United Kingdom, which could put them on course for British citizenship, the BBC reported.
The British Foreign Secretary is expected to announce details later in the day.
“The enactment and imposition of this national security law constitute a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration. It violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and it’s in direct conflict with Hong Kong’s Basic Law,” Johnson said Wednesday in a speech before Parliament.
The 1997 agreement handed over Hong Kong, previously a British colony, to Beijing as long as Hong Kong’s people were allowed to retain some liberties not afforded to Chinese citizens.
“The law also threatens freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration,” Johnson continued. “We made clear, Mr. Speaker, that if China continued down this path we would introduce a new route for those with British national overseas status to enter the U.K. granting them limited leave to remain with the ability to live and work in the U.K. and thereafter to apply for citizenship, and that is precisely what we will do now.”
Taiwan has also opened an office Wednesday dedicated to those fleeing the new national security law in Hong Kong in an effort to attract professionals and capital from Asia’s financial hub, Reuters reported.