A black-clad masked rioter, shielded by umbrellas, spray-paints the iconic lion statue outside the HSBC headquarters building in Central on Jan 1, 2019. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)
Hong Kong Police arrested at least 400 people on Wednesday for participating in illegal assemblies and possession of offensive weapons after a New Year’s Day mass rally turned ugly.
Ng Lok-Chun, senior police superintendent for the Hong Kong Island Region, condemned rioters for “hijacking” a peaceful march on New Year’s Day.
He told reporters on Wednesday night the protesters had trampled over the rights of people peacefully expressing their opinions during a public procession.
The rally, which started from Victoria Park, was generally peaceful initially, but degenerated into violence around 4 pm, as rioters smashed HSBC and Starbucks outlets in Wan Chai. Ng said that due to concerns about safety, the public procession was forced to end around 5:30 pm.
During the chaos, radical protesters spray-painted insulting comments about High Court Judge Anthea Pang Po-kam on a wall outside the court
During the chaos, radical protesters spray-painted insulting comments about High Court Judge Anthea Pang Po-kam on a wall outside the court. Hong Kong’s legal profession on Wednesday condemned the High Court vandalism targeting a judge as behavior that seriously challenged the rule of law and damaged public confidence in the judiciary.
The Department of Justice of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region said in a statement that judicial independence is an essential element of the rule of law. It stressed that the SAR government respects people’s freedom of speech.
Such attacks will “severely undermine” the authority of courts and damage public confidence in the judiciary, it added.
Hong Kong police also strongly condemned the attacks in a statement as criminal acts in defiance of the rule of law. Police said they have classified the case as “criminal damage” and will enforce the law impartially.
Melissa Kaye Pang, president of the Law Society of Hong Kong, expressed her “shock” over the attacks. Pang said repeated attacks on the city’s judiciary were deplored by people working in the law, and she appealed to the legal profession to take responsibility for upholding judicial independence and the rule of law.
“As we enter 2020, I trust all members of the legal profession will stand up for the rule of law, work hard to accomplish every task and live a fulfilling life,” she said.
The SAR government and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority also condemned the vandalism by rioters.
The government said in a statement that violent acts will not be condoned and called on citizens to stop tolerating it and to shun the violence. It also reiterated that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China and denounced any attempt trying to divide the country. The HKMA said the expression of opinions should be conducted in a peaceful way.
The attacks were committed after a lawful march on Hong Kong Island was forced to end early owing to out-of-control violence and vandalism by radicals. The rioters went on a rampage at various parts of Hong Kong Island.
Rumors spreading online said police were responsible for the vandalism. Police rebutted such comments as “groundless and fabricated allegations” trying to discredit law enforcement officers. Police reiterated that they did not commit any unlawful acts and will bring the offenders to justice.
READ MORE: HK protests: Mob rule spreads terror
Later in the night, black-clad masked radicals, shielded by dozen of umbrellas, also spray-painted the iconic lion statue outside the HSBC headquarters building in Central; they even set it alight. The lion sculptures, named Stephen and Stitt, are well-known landmarks in Hong Kong.
Several ATMs of the HSBC also have been vandalized and a HSBC branch on Pedder Street was set on fire. HSBC later strongly condemned the vandalism as “unjustified” and suspended some banking facilities.
Public facilities and shops allegedly with links to the mainland were also severely damaged as black-clad radicals looted Best Mart 360 stores, vandalized tram stations and smashed traffic lights in Causeway Bay.
HONG KONG NEWS