Hundreds of protesters on Wednesday gathered on the streets here against a contentious law criminalizing disrespect towards the Chinese national anthem, leading to the police making arrests and using tear gas on demonstrators.
State media RTHK said the protesters raised slogans such as “Disband the police immediately,” and “Five demands not one less,” one of the most repeated ones since the protests began last year.
They also tried to block traffic on the streets with items such as trash cans, amid the riot police warning them that they risked being arrested for illegal assembly if they did not disperse, Efe news reported.
Some shops in the area decided to ask their customers to leave and closed down over fears of the unrest escalating.
Shortly after 2 p.m. (local time), police issued a statement that the protesters were disrupting traffic and urged them to leave as soon as possible, while warning it would use minimum necessary force to enforce the law.
The Legislative Council (the Hong Kong parliament) on Wednesday was scheduled to debate a draft law seeking to penalize “disrespect” to the March of the Volunteers, or the Chinese national anthem.
If approved, anyone found to be misusing or showing disrespect to the anthem would face sentences of up to three years in prison and fines of up to HK$50,000.
According to local media reports, security forces were preparing to deploy some 3,000 anti-riot officers in the city in the face of calls for mass protests by pro-democracy organizations.
Earlier during the day, a few hundred protesters came out on the streets in different parts of the city, leading to the arrest of at least 16 people, and three of them were carrying Molotov cocktails.
Unrest has been fostering again in Hong Kong in recent days due to Beijing’s announcement that it was preparing a national security law for the semi-autonomous city, which is likely to be passed on Thursday.
According to Chinese National People’s Congress (legislature), the national security law will prohibit “any act of treason, secession, sedition and subversion” against the central government, in addition to the “theft of state secrets and the organization of activities in Hong Kong by foreign political organizations,” terms that the Chinese Executive has previously used to curb dissent.
This move comes after nearly a year of pro-democracy mobilizations that have severely jolted Hong Kong’s economy and also resulted in clashes between the police and several violent protesters.
Article 23 of the Basic Law (which governs Hong Kong) stipulates that the city must endorse legislation on security made by Beijing, something that has always been extremely controversial among the population for fear that it would result in a reduction of freedoms.
Hong Kong has been gripped for several years by political unrest and demonstrations, which had been gaining momentum in the months leading up to the coronavirus outbreak, which led to them being suspended.
The territory was returned to Chinese control in 1997 after a century and a half of British rule, after London and Beijing signed a joint declaration in 1984 under which the UK renounced its last Asian colony.
This deal established a series of freedoms in the city for 50 years, many of which do not exist on mainland China.