More than 100 protesters in Hong Kong yesterday marched and chanted slogans during a lunchtime protest to mark the one-year anniversary of a clash with police outside the territory’s legislature, while a dedicated police unit is being set up to enforce controversial new national security legislation from day one.
The protesters marched through a luxury shopping mall in the Admiralty district, holding flags that read: “Hong Kong independence,” and shouting: “Stand for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” They sang the protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong and laid out a large banner with a Chinese saying meaning: “The people fear not death, why threaten them with it?”
The demonstrators were commemorating a demonstration last year in which tens of thousands of protesters surrounded the legislative building, delaying the start of a debate on an extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to China for trial. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the 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 COVID-19 pandemic began, but picked up steam in the past few weeks after China’s National People’s Congress agreed to enact new national security legislation for Hong Kong.
Three pro-democracy activists and a media tycoon who owns the Apple Daily newspaper, Jimmy Lai (黎智英), were on Thursday charged with “inciting others to participate in an unauthorized assembly” over a candlelight vigil last week marking Beijing’s 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Police banned the annual vigil for the first time in three decades, citing public health concerns over the pandemic, but thousands of people turned up anyway.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong Security Minister John Lee Ka-chiu (李家超) said that police were establishing a separate dedicated unit to enforce the proposed national security legislation.
“The new body will have intelligence-gathering capability. We’ll have investigation capability. We’ll have an action arm,” Lee told the South China Morning Post. “We should also have a strategy for the long-term development of this dedicated unit.”
Lee would not say how it would work with Chinese agencies, but suggested that there would be heavy involvement.
“I’m sure that the mainland authorities have a much wider network of intelligence gathering and also a much higher level of analysis,” Lee said. “They have a helicopter view of the whole thing, so they will let us know the whole picture when we ... might not be able to.”
The Global Times reported that the new Hong Kong force would work with mainland agencies on joint operations. The legislation has fueled international and business concern over Beijing’s growing interference with Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms.
State media said on Thursday that legislators were working “day and night” to draft the legislation.
Attendees at a forum organised by influential pro-Beijing group Hong Kong Coalition heard that the the National People’s Congress Standing Committee would “spare no effort” in drafting the laws quickly.
The Standing Committee drafts the new security laws, which are meant to go through three readings before approval, but could be adopted sooner.
Additional reporting by the Guardian
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