Thousands of people across Hong Kong have sung protest songs and marched to mark the one-year anniversary of a clash with police outside the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s legislature.
Hundreds gathered in the popular Causeway Bay and Mongkok shopping districts and in the Sha Tin shopping centre in the New Territories in the evening. In Causeway Bay, they held signs reading “Heaven will destroy the CCP”, referring to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Riot police stood on standby as protesters shouted slogans and sang the protest anthem Glory To Hong Kong.
In Mongkok and Causeway Bay, police raised a blue flag, warning that the gatherings were unlawful and force might be used to disperse the participants.
Groups of protesters were detained and searched in Mongkok, and in Causeway Bay police used pepper spray and arrested several protesters, including pro-democracy legislator Ted Hui.
Earlier, more than 100 people joined a lunchtime protest in a luxury shopping centre in the Admiralty business district.
They held flags reading “Hong Kong independence” and laid out a large banner saying “The people fear not death, why threaten them with it?”
The protesters were commemorating a demonstration last year in which tens of thousands of protesters surrounded the legislative building, delaying the start of debate on an extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.
Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse those protesters in one of the first violent clashes in what would become a months-long push for greater democracy.
The protest movement quieted down earlier this year as the coronavirus pandemic began, but has picked up steam in recent weeks after China’s ceremonial parliament agreed to enact a new national security law for Hong Kong, a former British colony.
The government says the law is aimed at curbing secessionist and subversive behaviour in the city, as well as preventing foreign intervention in its internal affairs.
Critics say it is an attack on the freedoms promised to Hong Kong when it was handed over to China in 1997.
Hong Kong operates under a “one country, two systems” framework that gives the city rights not found on the mainland, such as freedom of speech and assembly.
Earlier on Friday, more than 100 students formed a human chain in the Kowloon district to protest over the removal of a music teacher for allegedly allowing students to sing protest songs.
On Thursday, three pro-democracy activists and a media tycoon who owns the Apple Daily newspaper, Jimmy Lai, were charged with “inciting others to participate in an unauthorised assembly” over a candlelight vigil last week marking Beijing’s 1989 crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square.
Police banned the annual vigil for the first time in three decades, citing public health concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of people turned up anyway.
China’s foreign ministry later lashed out at the UK for issuing a regular six-month report on developments in Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs. No foreign organisation or individual has the right to intervene. The British side has no sovereignty, governance, supervision or so-called responsibility over Hong Kong,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
She defended the proposed national security legislation, saying Britain should “face up to reality, respect China’s sovereignty, security and integrity, and stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs in any way”.
“The more external forces intervene in Hong Kong affairs, the more determined China is to advance the national security legislation in Hong Kong,” Ms Hua said.