Five members of July 1 march organiser the Civil Human Rights Front arrested yesterday for leading the democracy rally at a snail's pace denounced the police action as "political persecution". They had earlier accused the police of causing a bottleneck by refusing to open more lanes for the marchers.
The arrests, on top of those of 511 protesters for staging a sit-in after the march, prompted questions about the need for such strict law enforcement.
Lawmaker James To Kun-sun called the police "foolish and laughable" for arresting peaceful marchers.
Last night, the five protesters were released on bail and will have to report back to police next month.
Front convenor Johnson Yeung Ching-yin voluntarily went to Wan Chai police station. He said: "Now the government is choosing to arrest people in a peaceful assembly like this, I can't think of any other reason besides political persecution."
Yeung said that as far as he could remember, police had not previously detained organisers of the annual march. Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said police had handled the arrests in a way consistent with their usual principles.
Yeung and fellow front members Daisy Chan Sin-ying, Sammy Shum, Kitty Hung Hiu-han and Ivy Chan Siu-ping - the last two both masters of ceremonies at the rally - were all arrested for "failing to comply with directions given by police officers" and obstructing the officers.
Shum, who drove a truck that led the procession, was also suspected of "vacating a motor vehicle without having stopped the engine", while Ivy Chan allegedly provided false and misleading information - a wrong street number of her address - to police.
Watch: Five organisers of July 1 pro-democracy march arrested
The two Chans were arrested in the morning, while the other three, having learned of the force's intentions, visited the police station voluntarily.
Police said in a statement the five caused the truck to move "at a very low speed".
They "disregarded repeated advice and warnings" and stopped the vehicle near the junction of Hennessy Road and Fenwick Street for about 25 minutes.
Then they used loudhailers to "incite" marchers to stop and block the road to force the opening of more lanes. "As there were tens of thousands of participants following the lead vehicle, stopping the vehicle suddenly or driving it at such low speeds posed serious potential threats to public safety and public order," the statement continued.
The front said that when the truck arrived in Wan Chai, hundreds of people joined the march and walked in front of the vehicle. It accused the police of causing the bottleneck.
The next day, police took 511 people into custody for staging the overnight sit-in in Chater Road, Central.
Lawmaker Kenneth Leung, who sits on the Independent Police Complaints Council, said: "In the past July 1 rallies, there were always times when the organisers stopped along the route to bargain with the police about opening more lanes.
"Is it really necessary for the police to enforce the law so strictly?"