A march last night to protest against Beijing’s intervention in the oath-taking saga ended in a tense stand-off overnight between police and protesters outside the central government’s liaison office in Sai Wan.
The clash between officers and the 4,000-strong crowd gathered in the area to voice their anger against the central government saw the use of pepper spray by police.
Police said a total of four people were arrested for allegedly obstructing police officers. League of Social Democrats chairman Avery Ng Man-yuen said on his Facebook account that he was among the arrested and had been released on bail.
The drama is to do with Youngspiration lawmakers Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching. Earlier this month, the pair changed the wording of their oaths at the Legislative Council, swearing allegiance to a “Hong Kong nation”. This meant they had their oaths rejected. But Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen said the Sixtus Leung and Yau would be allowed to take their oaths again.
Following the drama, Chief Executive Leung Chun-yin launched a judicial review in his own name against the decision by the Legislative Council president to allow the Youngspiration duo to take their oaths again.
But the judicial review has been overshadowed by an interpretation of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee that came this morning. The Standing Committee unanimously passed its interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law, Xinhua reported. The “renewed” Article 104 outline oath-taking rules and asserts that non-compliance means disqualification.
Last night’s rally, organised by Civil Human Rights Front and others, including Sixtus Leung and Yau, as well as lawmaker Nathan Law, was to protest Beijing stepping in on this decision. Protesters argue it is a violation of the city’s core values.
“While not everyone agrees with how Leung and Yau took their oaths, an interpretation [of the Basic Law] and the demise of the separation of powers will affect Hong Kong’s economic prosperity, stability as well as people’s livelihood,” a leaflet handed out at the event read.
The rally had begun on a more peaceful note earlier in the day. At 3.30pm, participants started marching from Southorn Playground in Wan Chai with the aim of making their way to the Court of Final Appeal in Central.
At least 13,000 people, many dressed in black and waving colonial-era flags, joined the event, according to event organisers. But police put the figure at 8,000.
Officers engaged in scuffles with some demonstrators after they marched to the liaison office from Wan Chai in a departure from the original plan for the protest, which was supposed to end at the Court of Final Appeal in Central.
At about 7.50pm, police on Connaught Road West deployed pepper spray multiple times against protesters during a stand-off which saw masked demonstrators charge police barricades. The crowds later spilled into one of two traffic lanes. Many protestors used umbrellas and protest banners as shields.
By 9pm the confrontation had spread from the main entrance of the liaison office to its rear, bringing traffic on a section of Des Voeux Road West to a standstill.
By 10.30pm a third battle line was forming near Sai Ying Pun station’s B3 exit. The MTR announced all Island Line trains would not stop at Sai Ying Pun station and that all entrances to the station would be closed.
About 400 officers at 10.45pm had been deployed to handle the protesters, with hundreds more on standby including elite “raptor” officers. About 12.30am officers came down Western Street from Queen’s Road. Along with the personnel already deployed on Des Voeux Road, they began forcing protesters out of the intersection between Western Street and Des Voeux Road. While some protesters started throwing bottles at police, the majority of the crowd slowly moved eastward on Des Voeux Road.
In face of the “unfavourable situation”, Demosisto, Student Fight for Democracy, the League of Social Democrats and the Labour Party announced that the rally was over and urged protesters to depart to “avoid sacrifice”.
At 2am, to clear the remaining protesters, a squad of about 40 officers equipped with batons actively chased rally participants from Wilmer Street to Bonham Strand West. After the chase, the majority of the remaining protesters dispersed. From 2.15am to 2.50am, police tried to get people off the main roads and onto the sidewalks. Traffic partially resumed on Des Voeux Road after the chase. Cabs and light buses were seen driving into the area. At 3.05am, most of the police officers were dismissed. At 3.07am, traffic on Des Voeux Road went back to normal.
Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei said the pro-independence activists in Hong Kong had seriously violated the principle of “one country, two systems”, the Basic Law, and Hong Kong’s local laws.
“Since the Legislative Council elections, some people have been advocating independence and saying they want to do it in Legco,” he said. “The interpretation today will help to defend national unity and sovereignty.”
Li also dismissed the notion that the interpretation of the Basic Law will undermine Hong Kong’s rule of law and judicial independence.