Hundreds of protesters were arrested Wednesday in Hong Kong after riot police gathered around the city’s legislature overnight and adopted a zero tolerance approach.
About 300 people across the city were taken into police custody for “unauthorized assembly” and possession of “offensive weapons” and “tools for illegal use” as they demonstrated against new national security laws as well as a law criminalizing disrespecting China’s national anthem.
Police employed pepper spray, pellets, kettling, and searches to control the protesters, groups of whom cropped up around the city in an apparently unorganized manner. Several protesters tussled with police before being arrested.
The national anthem bill, which is being debated and is scheduled for a June 4 final vote, would establish that “to insult” China’s national anthem, “March of the Volunteers,” carries a three-year prison sentence.
Pro-Democracy activists and other critics claim the national security laws would effectively scrap the “one country, two systems” policy that has allowed Hong Kong its political freedoms and civil liberties while still being technically governed by China.
On Sunday, thousands of protesters demonstrated against the new laws and clashed with police in the largest protests since last summer, when an extradition bill ignited months of violent pro-democracy protests.
Hong Kong was roiled by protests through the warmer months last year, originally sparked by outrage over an extradition law that Hong Kong residents said would allow Chinese authorities to effectively “kidnap” them with little evidence of criminality. The bill was eventually withdrawn, although by then, protesters were demanding more, including enhanced democracy for Hong Kong, an independent investigation into police conduct, and amnesty for protesters who have been arrested.
President Trump said Tuesday that the U.S. would have a response to China’s national security laws for Hong Kong by the end of the week. Congress is set to consider later this month whether Hong Kong should retain its special trading privileges or whether China’s control over the city has become too great.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said the president finds it “hard to see how Hong Kong can remain a financial hub if China takes over.”