Hong Kong Vows Crackdown on Anti-Extradition Protesters Who Broke Into Legislature

china-hk-legco-trashed-july-2019.jpg Graffiti is seen behind the speakers chair in the main chamber of the Legislative Council during a media tour in Hong Kong, July 3, 2019.

UPDATED at 1:48 p.m. EDT on 2019-07-03

Authorities in Hong Kong on Wednesday said they have arrested more than 20 people after vowing to pursue those responsible for the storming of the city's legislature during mass anti-extradition protests earlier in the week, which is being investigated by an arm of the police force usually reserved for organized crime.

"Police will resolutely pursue the protesters for their illegal and violent acts at the [Legislative Council (LegCo)] Complex on July 1," the force said in a statement.

"The Organized Crime and Triad Bureau is now actively investigating and collecting evidence relating to the incident in order to bring the offenders to justice," it said.

Police have arrested 13 people aged between 14 and 36 in connection with protests on July 1, on suspicion of carrying offensive weapons, illegal assembly, assaulting a police officer, obstructing police officers in the performance of their duties, not being able to produce an ID, and violating air navigation laws, a possible reference to the use of laser pointers during the protests.

As well as breaking into LegCo, protesters also pushed through to a ceremonial flagstaff outside the city's Convention and Exhibition Center in the early hours of Monday, where they removed the flag of the People's Republic of China and replaced it with a blackened Hong Kong Special Administrative Region flag.

Police said they had also arrested eight people for allegedly revealing the names and personal details of police officers online, an action commonly known as "doxxing," bringing the total number of arrests linked to anti-extradition protests to more than 50 over the past month.

Superintendent Swalikh Mohammed told reporters that the full Chinese and English names, identity card numbers and addresses of some police officers and their family members were posted online, leading to abusive and threatening phone calls from members of the public.

“The doxxing and the threats that the officers face include constant nuisance calls, someone sending messages threatening them, telling them they will die immediately," he said.

"Not just the officers themselves but their families have also received similar messages, people visiting the family members who are conducting their daily work, trying to threaten them,” Mohammed said.

Campaigners against plans by chief executive Carrie Lam to change the city's extradition law to allow the rendition of alleged criminal suspects to face charges in mainland China have focused their protests on the police following their use of tear gas, rubber and textile bullets, batons and pepper spray on unarmed protesters on June 12.

However, they have also demanded fully democratic elections, vowing to "overthrow this violent regime and the Legislative Council."

"At the root of all of these problems is the lack of fully democratic elections ... We won't stand down until we have full and democratic elections," they said in a July 1 statement titled the "Admiralty Declaration" posted to Facebook.

Protesters are also calling for officials responsible for the handling of the extradition amendments and protests to step down, for the government to drop charges against all protesters, and for an independent inquiry into, and an apology for, police violence.

They also want LegCo to pass a motion referring to all the protests of recent years as democratic movements rather than "riots."

LegCo shutdown

Lam's administration has shut down LegCo for two weeks following the break-in, which left toughened glass doors and steel shutters in pieces and large amounts of anti-extradition and anti-China graffiti daubed on the building, including the main chamber.

"HK is not China," read one slogan, while others called for the withdrawal of amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, which has only been shelved for the time being.

"Official dogs" was also repeatedly sprayed across the walls and doors in an insult targeting government and police.

Monday's storming of LegCo came after an estimated 500,000 people marched peacefully against planned amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, and amid renewed calls for fully democratic elections in the city.

China's rejection of full democracy for Hong Kong in 2014 sparked the 79-day Occupy Central protests, also known as the Umbrella movement.

Two people have committed suicide in the city after displaying anti-extradition slogans, while a third man was escorted away by social workers after threatening to jump from the roof of a shopping mall.

Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung said the man is currently in a safe place, and hit out at the government for not listening to public opinion.

He said many young people are living in fear of arrest now.

"The effect of [the arrests] has been to make a lot of people who took part in the anti-extradition protests ... fear that they may eventually face charges and prosecution," Yeung said. "A lot of participants, especially young people, are now living in fear."

He said the arrests weren't purely based on criminal considerations, but also political ones.

"We shouldn't forget that the events that took place in June were triggered by a political issue," Yeung said. "If the ... government chooses to use the law to deal with it, it is only going to create even bigger political conflicts, and it's basically not a long-term solution."

The government's chief clinical psychologist Chan Yiu-kee called on people in need to seek out help from friends and family or get professional help if their mood is affected by recent events.

"If you have such emotions, it may reflect that what has happened in the community matters to you very much," Chan told reporters on Wednesday. "It will help you to overcome this difficult time if your emotions are understood and accepted by others."

"If you notice that your friends are emotionally distressed, you should encourage them to seek professional assistance," he said, adding that people can call the social welfare department hotline on +852 2343 2255 if they need help.

Mass actions

Monday's protest was the latest in a string of mass actions against the amendments, which are widely seen as a threat to Hong Kong's way of life, which was supposed to have been protected by the "one country, two systems" framework under which the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.

If they become law, the city could lose its status as a separate legal jurisdiction and trading entity, while journalists, visitors, rights activists, dissidents, democratic politicians, and members of the business community could be targeted for words and actions deemed illegal by Chinese authorities, and extradited to face trial in Chinese courts.

Pro-democracy lawmakers say the only solution to recurring mass protests in Hong Kong is for the government to allow fully democratic elections, a demand that was rejected by Beijing in 2014, sparking the Occupy Central, or Umbrella Movement.

Hong Kong's lawyers have also come out in support of protesters, saying that the extradition bill should be withdrawn completely, as opposed to the postponement offered by Carrie Lam last month.

Reported by Tam Siu-yin for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Lu Xi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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