Mass arrests of anti-government demonstrators might help reduce violence in the short-run but could backfire in the long term, two Hong Kong academics have said. Lingnan University’s Samson Yuen Wai-hei, who has been observing protesters on the ground since unrest against the now-abandoned extradition bill erupted in June, found the police tactic of stepping up arrests had been in force since the middle of last month. “It appears police are adopting a deliberate strategy of arresting as many frontline protesters as possible,” he said. Police held 159 people in connection with protests spreading several districts from Friday to Sunday, taking to 1,117 the total number of arrests since the protest movement began in earnest nearly four months ago. Nearly 370 of those have been made since August 16, accounting for a third of all arrests since June 9. In the beginning of the mass demonstrations, police often waited for protesters to take the last train home and call it a night, without making large-scale arrests. Second Immigration Department employee arrested in Hong Kong protests A police insider said the force had taken a harsher approach since the return of former deputy chief Alan Lau Yip-shing because their lenient approach had failed to deter people from breaking the law. “These people thought they were playing war games and were having fun all summer. They thought they did not need to bear any criminal liability,” the insider said. “Radical protesters particularly look for teenagers as ‘warriors’ and brainwashed them. These teenagers usually came from a broken family or have a bad relationship with their parents. No one cares about them.” The source described arrested protesters aged 12 or 13 , wearing full gear and carrying weapons, crying after being arrested as they finally realised the consequences of their behaviour. He said mass arrests were needed to “make thing right”. “The age card does not work. Whoever broke the law has to accept liability,” the insider added. On Friday, police arrested prominent pro-democracy activists and three lawmakers in a crackdown ahead of a banned major march and what became the 13th straight weekend of anti-government protests. Among those arrested were Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Agnes Chow Ting , both from the political party Demosisto, Andy Chan Ho-tin, convenor of the now-outlawed Hong Kong National Party, and politicians Cheng Chung-tai, Au Nok-hin and Jeremy Tam Man-ho. They were detained over their involvement in various protests sparked by the bill, which would have allowed the transfer of criminal suspects to mainland China and other jurisdictions with which the city lacked an extradition agreement. Tian Feilong, associate professor at Beihang University’s law school in Beijing, believed the arrests of high-profile activists would force peaceful protesters to think twice about taking part in anti-government protests, particularly those without police approval. “People like Joshua Wong play a crucial role in orchestrating the protests despite the claim that the anti-government campaign is leaderless,” he said. Student leader among three more activists rounded up in Hong Kong “If 2,000 or 3,000 protesters are arrested in the near future, police may be able to stop violence on streets to a certain extent in the short-run,” Samson Yuen said. “But it could backfire in the long term because the move would anger peaceful protesters, with some of them turning radical.” Edmund Cheng Wai, a Baptist University political scientist, also warned police’s latest strategy could turn sour and breed more anti-government hatred among protesters. “Police officers are also prone to making mistakes if they take an increasingly high-handed approach,” he said. Cheng was referring to elite Special Tactical Squad police chasing protesters onto a stationary train at Prince Edward station on Saturday night, hitting them with batons and using pepper spray. Cheng said surveys on the marchers conducted by a research team led by him and other academics from Chinese, Baptist and Lingnan universities since June showed a growing trend of peaceful demonstrators’ endorsement of radical protesters’ actions. Nearly 98 per cent of 1,905 protesters, who were polled by researchers during demonstrations at the airport on August 10, agreed they and protesters who had resorted to radical action were “sitting on the same boat”. That compared with 95 per cent of 680 people, who were polled while taking part in a march organised by the Civil Human Rights Front on July 21 and shared that view. Ninety-seven per cent of those demonstrators polled at the August 10 airport protest agreed radical protesters spoke for them, compared with 95 per cent of those interviewed during the July 21 march.