HK protesters arrested ahead of Xi's visit

Pro-democracy activists chanting slogans on the sculpture of a golden bauhinia flower, which became the emblem of Hong Kong in 1997. The statue was given to the city by China as a present to mark the handover.
Pro-democracy activists chanting slogans on the sculpture of a golden bauhinia flower, which became the emblem of Hong Kong in 1997. The statue was given to the city by China as a present to mark the handover.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG • A group of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, including student campaigner Joshua Wong, was detained by police yesterday after an anti-China protest ahead of a visit by President Xi Jinping.

Mr Wong was among at least 20 protesters who had staged a three- hour sit-in at a harbourfront statue and were led away into police vans.

Mr Xi's visit this week marks 20 years since Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain and comes at a time when fears are growing that Beijing is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city.

Protesters had encircled the sculpture of a golden bauhinia flower, which became the emblem of Hong Kong in 1997. The statue was given to the city by China as a present to mark the handover.

Some activists chained themselves to the sculpture while others climbed into its petals.

Police cleared the area and surrounded the statue, leading protesters away one by one.

Most walked but Mr Wong and young legislator Nathan Law lay down and were carried away from the scene.

Police had warned the protesters they were causing a public nuisance and would be arrested if they did not move. Some demonstrators remained on top of the statue, with at least one chained to it.

As Mr Wong was carried away to the awaiting vans, he shouted: "Protest on July 1!" - the anniversary of the handover.

Mr Xi is due to land in Hong Kong today for a three-day visit to attend anniversary celebrations and swear in the city's new leader Carrie Lam.

The city is ruled under a "one country, two systems" deal, enshrined in the handover agreement, which allows it rights unseen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and an independent judiciary.

But there are concerns that China is increasingly interfering in a range of areas, from politics to education and the media.

Protesters at the bauhinia statue chanted "Long live the Umbrella Movement!" and "I'm a Hong Konger!"

The Umbrella Movement was the name given to mass rallies in 2014 calling for democratic reforms.

Mr Wong and Mr Law were among the student leaders of those protests, which ultimately failed to win concessions.

Activists yesterday also called for the release of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was granted medical parole this week due to late-stage liver cancer but remains in the mainland.

The writer and Nobel Peace laureate, now 61, was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for "subversion" after spearheading a bold petition for democratic reforms.

The bauhinia statue stands outside the convention centre where Mr Xi will attend anniversary events and is a stone's throw from the hotel he will stay in.

The spot is popular with mainland visitors.

Some of the demonstrators had already draped the statue with a black flag on Monday during an early morning anti-China protest.

It was removed by police.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2017, with the headline 'HK protesters arrested ahead of Xi's visit'. Print Edition | Subscribe