Police Arrest Protest Organizer For 'Obstruction' After He Calls on Crowd to Leave


2020-01-20
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china-sundayprotest2-012020.gif Hong Kong protesters rally to oppose political control of the city by Beijing, Jan. 19, 2020.
Reuters

Police in Hong Kong arrested protest organizer Ventus Lau after claiming incorrectly that he didn't ask a peaceful protest crowd to disperse when their event was ordered to close at short notice by riot police on Sunday.

Lau was among the organizers of the "Universal Siege Against Communism" demonstration, who said that some 150,000 people showed up to support the event.

He was arrested on Sunday evening on charges of "obstruction of police administration" and for violating terms set when permission was granted for the protest, the Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team said in a statement.

Police had initially given permission for a static gathering in the Central business district, but protesters spilled out onto nearby streets, with frontline protesters making barricades to protect the peaceful crowd from riot police.

Police then ordered a halt to the protest, and an altercation ensued during which Lau repeatedly demanded to see identification. Lau is then visible in video footage reviewed by RFA telling the crowd to leave peacefully via the nearby Admiralty MTR station.

"Reporters at the scene noted that Lau did announce that the rally was over and had asked the crowd to leave peacefully in the direction of Admiralty," government broadcaster RTHK reported on Monday.

"Organizers also used loudhailers to ask marshals to help people leave, urging the protesters to remain calm," it said.

Police also claimed that Lau's repeated requests to see the officers' identification constituted "obstructive" behavior. Police have refused to wear their unique identifying numbers since protests against extradition to China first escalated last June, making it impossible to lodge complaints through official channels in cases of police brutality or abuse of power.

Senior superintendent of operations Ng Lok-chun said some protesters were trying to block roads and damage surveillance cameras, leading to the police order to end the rally.

He said four police officers were injured and two were sent to hospital after being attacked by protesters.

Report on police violence

Millions of pro-democracy supporters have taken to Hong Kong's streets with demands for a public inquiry into police violence, fully democratic elections, an amnesty for thousands of arrested protesters, and an end to the use of the word "rioters" to describe the movement.

While Lam formally withdrew hated amendments to the city's laws that would have allowed extradition to mainland China in October, protesters slammed her response as too little, too late, and demanded she address the rapid erosion of the city's promised freedoms.

The Civil Rights Observer group said it had compiled a report into police violence during protests on June 12, 2019, and plans to submit it to the United Nations.

Group founder Icarus Wong said the report detailed the inappropriate use of tear gas on a crowd of people who had no obvious escape route, as well as excessive use of beating with batons and riot shields to injure protesters already lying on the ground.

He said the report recommends an independent public inquiry into police violence on June 12, and a publicly available code of conduct for the use of force by police officers, among other measures.

City's debt rating falls

The New York-based credit agency Moody's downgraded Hong Kong's debt rating on Monday, blaming the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam for failing to respond adequately to seven months of mass protest.

"The absence of tangible plans to address either the political or economic and social concerns of the Hong Kong population that have come to the fore in the past nine months may reflect weaker inherent institutional capacity than Moody's had previously assessed," Moody's said in a statement.

It said Lam's response had been "notably slow, tentative and inconclusive."

"It may also point to more significant constraints on the autonomy of Hong Kong's institutions than previously thought," the agency added, in a reference to political pressure from the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services.Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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