Hong Kong police arrested at least 60 people on Thursday, including two district councilors, after crowds of people took to the streets on China's National Day in defiance of a protest ban.
Protesters gathered from around 3.00 p.m. local time in the shopping district of Causeway Bay, chanting "Free Hong Kong, revolution now!" and other slogans, amid an already strong police presence on the city's streets.
"Police intercepted and arrested at least 60 persons, including two District Council members, for offenses such as 'participating in an unauthorized assembly' under the Public Order Ordinance," the police said in a statement on their Facebook page.
In a statement on the official Hong Kong government website, police said the slogan could be in breach of the National Security Law because it potentially "incites or abets others to commit secession."
"Police have given warnings to the crowd, clearly stating that their acts might constitute relevant offences under the National Security Law and the Public Order Ordinance, and warned them to stop illegal acts and leave immediately," the statement said.
By 4:00 p.m., police had cordoned off a section of Paterson Street and stopped and searched more than 50 passersby.
Protesters had also publicized unofficial rallies in Wanchai, Wong Tai Sin, Sham Shui Po, Tsuen Wan, Tuen Mun, and Shatin districts at 1.00 p.m, while demonstrations were planned outside Chinese embassies and consulates around the world to protest the ruling Chinese Communist Party's human rights record on Oct. 1.
As of 5.00 p.m., a total of 69 people had been arrested in Causeway Bay on charges of "illegal assembly," including District Councilors Lee Yee-shun and Leung Fong-wai.
The protests came after Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said the national security law had brought back social stability in the wake of last year's protest movement.
"Over the past three months, the plain truth is and it is obvious to see that stability has been restored to society while national security has been safeguarded," Lam said.'Unjustified accusations'
Lam hit out at foreign governments for their "unjustified accusations" and sanctions against Hong Kong in the wake of the new law, and said there would be no change in the government's approach.
"I and my relevant colleagues will continue to discharge our duty to safeguard national security in accordance with the law without fear or anxiety," Lam told a behind-closed-doors flag-raising ceremony marking China's National Day on Thursday.
The protests came after Hong Kong police turned down an application by march organizers the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) to hold a march in support of 12 Hong Kong activists detained in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.
The march organizers called on Hongkongers to wear black instead to register their protest over the incommunicado detention of 12 Hong Kong activists in a Shenzhen detention center after they tried to flee to the democratic island of Taiwan by speedboat. None of the lawyers appointed by the families of the 12 activists, aged 16 to 33, has been allowed to meet with their clients.
Thursday's protests were marked by the first-time appearance of uniformed police "presenters" relaying footage and descriptions from the streets, while journalists were kept behind a cordon and prevented from walking the streets in search of footage or interviewees.
"Commentators holding microphones with a 'PPRB Live' label were stationed in Causeway Bay, at Wan Chai’s MTR station, around the Hung Hom Cross-Harbour Tunnel and in Tsuen Wan," the Hong Kong Free Press reported.
Police also stopped and searched some journalists and asked for their ID, including press accreditation. RFA journalists were asked by police to show their press cards, while police asked if they had Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) membership cards, despite recent changes to police standing orders ending the official recognition of HKJA-accredited journalists.
“It could not be more ironic that the police are doing the job of reporters by giving live coverage of their own operation while blocking genuine reporters from getting nearer to do their job," HKJA chairman Chris Yeung told Hong Kong Free Press.Ferry disaster remembered
Meanwhile, the families of victims of the Oct. 1, 2012 Lamma ferry disaster made offerings at the ferry terminal for the souls of those who died, calling for Marine Department officials to be held responsible over the deaths, and criticizing what they said was a lack of government follow-up.
The authorities have yet to make public the results of an independent inquiry into the incident, and death certificates for the victims have yet to be issued, they said in an open letter.
Thirty-nine people were killed when a vessel owned by the power company Hongkong Electric taking families to watch the National Day fireworks display collided with a Lamma Island ferry and sank in Victoria Harbour.
Hong Kong police have arrested thousands of people in connection with protests that swept the city throughout most of last year, on charges that rights groups and overseas officials have said undermine the city's traditional freedoms of expression and association, guaranteed by China under the terms of the 1997 handover.
Hundreds more have been arrested since July 1, when the ruling Chinese Communist Party imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong outlawing words and deeds deemed by the authorities to constitute separatism, subversion or terrorism, or collusion with a foreign power.
In August, the United States announced sanctions against Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and senior Chinese and Hong Kong officials for their role in curbing the city's promised freedoms and in implementing the national security regime, which has seen China's feared state security police set up a headquarters in the city.Reported by Man Hoi-tsan, Lau Siu-fung, Tseng Yat-yiu and Wu Hoi-man for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.