Hong Kong activists rally after arrests at handover statue protest hours before Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives
At least 26 arrested as police caught off guard by pro-democracy groups demanding universal suffrage
Pro-democracy activists called on their supporters to rally outside the North Point police station on Thursday morning after 26 of them were arrested for besieging a symbolic statue in protest at the Chinese Communist Party’s regime hours ahead of President Xi Jinping’s arrival in Hong Kong.
For the second time in three days, some 20 protesters from Demosisto, People Power and the League of Social Democrats climbed up and inside the Golden Bauhinia statue – a gift from Beijing to mark the handover – in Wan Chai.
At 8am on Thursday, the League of Social Democrats used its Facebook page to call for supporters to gather outside the North Point station at 10am.
It accused the police of delaying procedures as officers had yet to take statements from some of the league’s 13 arrested members at that time, about 10 hours after they were arrested.
Writing on Facebook at 8.49am, the league’s chairman Avery Ng Man-yuen, who was arrested, also said he was told that officers from the regional crime unit would only take statements from them at 10am.
“It seems that the police is delaying deliberately, so that Xi Jinping can smoothly arrive at the airport. They are preventing us from continuing to protest,” Ng accused.
The police’s spokesman could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
On Wednesday, senior police superintendent Tse Kwok-wai denied there had been a security breach during the statue incident. “The area [at the time ] was still open to the public,” he said. “Members of the public as well as tourists could get there.”
Tse said police had arrested 26 protesters, including 20 men and six women, aged 19 to 61.
He added that the force respected the public’s right to express their views. But he criticised the protesters for threatening public order and obstructing others.
A police spokesman said the area had been gradually sealed off from 10pm Wednesday as planned.
At 9pm, six protesters were still holding out and refused to give up. Officers then called in firefighters, who used a ladder to bring the protesters down.
By 9.30pm, the last activist, Wong Ho-ming of the League of Social Democrats, had surrendered.
The unexpected action came as 20 pan-democratic lawmakers signed a petition urging Xi to uphold “one country, two systems” – the framework that safeguards Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms – and to relaunch the city’s stalled political reform.
Derek Lam Shun-hin, Demosisto’s spokesperson, said in the early hours of Thursday that those arrested during the “peaceful” protest included lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung and secretary-general Joshua Wong Chi-fung. He added there was no information about the time of release at the moment.
Lam also called on Hongkongers to take to the streets on Saturday to demonstrate the right to democracy.
The police force issued a statement late on Wednesday condemning the “irresponsible behaviour of the protesters, which endangered their own safety and public safety, disregarded public order and interrupted Police’s anti-terrorist security operation”.
The statement went on to state that police “respect the public’s freedoms of expression, speech and assembly’.
News of Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo being released from prison on medical parole for late-stage liver cancer on Monday had intensified pro-democracy sentiments ahead of the visit by Xi, who arrives on Thursday morning to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese sovereignty.
The protesters draped a black banner from the top of the statue demanding the unconditional release of Liu and universal suffrage for Hong Kong.
“We are here to convey our demands and I am sure Xi will see it,” Raphael Wong Ho-ming, of the League, said.
Police quickly sealed off the entire area around the square and began removing the protesters by 8.25pm, arresting them for causing a public nuisance.
The pan-democratic lawmakers said they hoped to hand the petition to Xi at a banquet on Friday.
“We agree that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China,” they wrote. “However ... the central government and its liaison office have increasingly emphasised ‘one country’ but derogated ‘two systems’, and even interfered with Hong Kong’s internal affairs in multiple sectors.”
They urged Xi to restart the political reform process and respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, which Beijing had promised.
In addition to the joint petition, the Democratic Party and Civic Party will hand in their own statements, calling for Xi to release Liu and all other political prisoners.
In Beijing, Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University, said the “one country, two systems” model had been proven to be “very unsuccessful”.
“Before [the introduction of the framework], there was no pro-independence movement in Hong Kong and Hongkongers clearly identified themselves as Chinese,” Yan said.
“But now some young Hongkongers no longer identify themselves as Chinese. I don’t think this indicates a success [but] a failure.”
Additional reporting by Wendy Wu