Police in Hong Kong on Wednesday arrested at least 511 demonstrators who refused to leave city streets following one of the largest pro-democracy protests in the former British territory since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Demonstrators were arrested for “participating in unauthorized assembly and obstructing police officers in an operation,” according to a statement released by Hong Kong police.
“The public meeting on Chater Road on July 1 should have concluded according to the finishing time stated in [the permit letter]. After repeated advice and warnings by police including the display of warning banners, those refusing to leave in fact took part in an unauthorized assembly,” the statement said.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in the city’s financial district Tuesday afternoon, chanting slogans such as “Universal suffrage!” and demanding a larger say in who runs the city.
As night fell, a group primarily made up of students started a sit-in on Chater Road in the financial district to display their anger toward the city’s unpopular chief executive. The students are among the supporters of a civic group, Occupy Central with Peace and Love, that has been pressing for free elections for the chief executive position in 2017.
Tuesday’s demonstration and the subsequent sit-in were peaceful; pictures circulated on social media websites showed that many protesters held both hands up in an effort to convey to officers that they had no intention to be violent and to not give the police any reason to use force against them.
When the officers forcibly removed the demonstrators on Chater Road early Wednesday, some were taken away kicking and screaming. There were no reports of any serious injuries.
Police officials did not indicate how long they planned to hold those arrested. Lawyers were not allowed to meet immediately with the detainees, the local Sing Tao Daily reported.
Johnson Yeung Ching-yin of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized the annual July 1 mass rally, told a cheering crowd in the financial district that an estimated 510,000 people participated in the demonstration, slightly more than the record crowd of half a million who took part in the 2003 event. That year, many local citizens were up in arms over a proposed piece of anti-sedition legislation that was later shelved.
But police in Hong Kong estimated that only 98,600 took part at the peak of Tuesday’s demonstration, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
Tuesday was the 17th anniversary of the transfer of Hong Kong; agreements between Britain and China’s Communist leaders promised to allow the region of 7 million a wide range of civil liberties and a large degree of autonomy for at least 50 years.
Local residents in Hong Kong have grown increasingly dissatisfied with the way the city’s government operates and how its chief executive is chosen. In June, nearly 800,000 participated in a volunteer, nonbinding referendum on how Hong Kong’s next chief executive should be elected.
Beijing has pledged to allow a citywide vote for the chief executive position, but has said any candidates must “love China and love Hong Kong.” The June referendum aimed at influencing rules for the election was illegal and invalid, Beijing has declared.
“The size of the protest or number of votes cast will not change the central government's stance, which remains firmly on the side of universal suffrage in Hong Kong,” said Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong, the state-owned Global Times newspaper reported.
Tommy Yang and Nicole Liu in the Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.