A riot police uses pepper spray gun to disperse pro-democracy protesters during a demonstration oppose postponed elections, in Hong Kong, China September 6, 2020. REUTERS
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in the Asian financial hub of Hong Kong on Sunday to demonstrate against a new national security law imposed by China and the postponement of legislative elections.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam postponed the Sept. 6 election for seats in the city's Legislative Council for a year in July because of a spike in coronavirus cases.
The move dealt a blow to the pro-democracy opposition who hoped to win a historic majority in the Council, where only half the seats are directly elected and the other half are appointed members who mostly support Beijing.
The poll would have been the former British colony’s first official vote since Beijing imposed the new security legislation in late June, which critics say aims to quash dissent in the city.
The government insists any coronavirus measures are taken for public health reasons and not for political reasons.
Thousands of police were stationed around the bustling Kowloon peninsula as marchers waved placards and chanted popular anti-government slogans such as "liberate Hong Kong".
These slogans are now banned under the new law. Police arrested several well-known activists during the demonstration including Figo Chan, the vice-convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front and former legislator Leung Kwok-hung, also known as “Long Hair”, according to a post on Chan's Facebook page.
Anti-government demonstrations have declined this year mainly because of limits on group gatherings and the security law that punishes actions China sees as subversive, secessionist, terrorist or colluding with foreign forces.
“Today is supposedly our voting day, we need to resist to fight back for our vote” said a 70-year old woman surnamed Wong.
Hong Kong has reported around 4,800 coronavirus cases since January, far lower than in other major cities around the world. The number of new daily infections has fallen substantially from triple digits in July to single digits currently.
While street protests have largely lost momentum, anti-government and anti-Beijing sentiment persists, with China's offer of mass coronavirus testing for Hong Kong residents prompting calls for a boycott amid public distrust.
Gatherings are currently limited to two people. Police have cited such restrictions in rejecting applications for protests in recent months, effectively preventing demonstrations.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a guarantee of autonomy but critics say the new law undermines that promise and puts the territory on a more authoritarian path.
Supporters of the new security law say it will bring more stability after a year of often-violent anti-government and anti-China unrest and it plugs loopholes in national security left by the city’s inability to fulfil a constitutional requirement to pass such laws on its own.