HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police arrested at least 53 people on Sunday after clashes erupted during a relatively peaceful protest against planned national security legislation to be implemented by the Chinese mainland government.
Armed riot police were present when a crowd of several hundred moved from Jordan to Mong Kok in the Kowloon district, organizing what was intended as a “silent protest” against the planned law.
However, chants and slogans were shouted towards the police and later clashes broke out in Mong Kok, prompting the police to use pepper spray to subdue parts of the crowd.
Hong Kong police said on Facebook that 53 people had been arrested and charged with illegal gathering, adding that some protesters had previously attempted to block roads in the area.
The proposed national security law has raised concerns among Hong Kong democracy activists and some foreign governments that Beijing is further eroding the extensive autonomy promised when Britain returned the territory to China in 1997.
“Governments want to shut us up and kick us out,” said one protester, Roy Chan, 44. “We must rise up and defeat all those people who are depriving the people of Hong Kong of their liberty.”
Sunday’s event came a day after Hong Kong police rejected permission for an annual march that is generally held on July 1 to mark the 1997 installment, citing the ban on large gatherings amid the pandemic of coronavirus.
China has said the new security law will target only a small group of troublemakers in addressing separatism, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong.
The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China reviewed a draft of the bill on Sunday.
Chinese state media reported that lawmakers overwhelmingly supported the draft. The Chinese government has “an unwavering determination to move forward with the enactment of the security law and safeguard national sovereignty and interests,” state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing a government spokesperson.
Report by Scott Murdoch; Additional reports from Jessie Pang, Tyrone Siu, and Joyce Zhou; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Tom Hogue, Frances Kerry, and Peter Graff