Hundreds arrested in Hong Kong protests over new security law

At least nine charged under Chinese law that critics say strips Hong Kong of rights and freedoms

Hong Kong police fired water cannon, tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray on Wednesday and arrested more than 300 demonstrators.

At least nine of them were charged under a new national security law that critics say is draconian and strips the city of rights and freedoms enshrined in international treaties.

Chanting "resist til the end", thousands of demonstrators gathered to protest against the new law and mark the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong's handover back to China, defying a ban on the rally by authorities who cited social gathering restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak.

More than 300 were arrested for offences under the new legislation and for participating in an unauthorised assembly, disorderly conduct, possession of a weapon and other related offences, police said. One officer was stabbed in the shoulder as he tried to make an arrest, they said.

Some of those arrested, including a 15-year-old girl, were carrying flags and banners with Hong Kong independence slogans. A woman was arrested for waving a British flag and calling for Hong Kong’s independence.

As protesters chanted anti-China slogans, police unfurled a purple banner before they moved in to make arrests that said: “You are displaying flags or banners/chanting slogans/or conducting yourselves with an intent such as secession or subversion”, which may constitute offences under the security law.

China's new national security law for Hong Kong was imposed on Tuesday in a bid to quell the pro-democracy protests that have convulsed the city for the past year. Beijing bypassed Hong Kong's legislature and did not reveal the wording until the law came into effect.

Even Carrie Lam, the city's chief executive who has been supporting the adoption of the highly controversial security legislation for several weeks, admitted she had not seen a draft version before China's president Xi Jinping signed it into law on Tuesday.

Laid out in 66 articles, the law criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign entities, carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Analysts and pro-democracy protesters said the law was even more draconian than had been anticipated, containing numerous loosely worded articles that could be widely open to interpretation.


Some of the controversial aspects of the new legislation include: suspects can be extradited to mainland China; trials can be held in secret and without a jury; judges can be handpicked; the central government will set up and staff a national security agency in Hong Kong; foreigners and non-residents can be found in breach of the law when abroad; and Beijing has the sole right to interpret the legislation.

The law directly targets some of the actions of protesters over the past year, listing for example vandalism against government facilities or public transport networks as terror acts. The legislation also makes inciting hatred of the central government in Beijing and the local Hong Kong authorities an offence, and even peaceful calls for Hong Kong independence or greater levels of autonomy would be criminalised.

The introduction of the new law was met with condemnation from around the world, with critics fearing it would crush freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” agreement that has been key to Hong Kong’s success as a freewheeling and open society.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said it was a sad day for Hong Kong and the "draconian" legislation "destroys the territory's autonomy and one of China's greatest achievements," while the European Union expressed its "grave concern" and said it was essential the existing rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents be protected.

Peter Goff

Peter Goff

Peter Goff, a contributor to The Irish Times, formerly reported from China