Hong Kong leader condemns stabbing of cop on tense holiday

A policeman takes pictures at the site where a man allegedly stabbed a police officer in Causeway Bay on July 1, 2021.
A policeman takes pictures at the site where a man allegedly stabbed a police officer in Causeway Bay on July 1, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, denounced the stabbing of a policeman in a bustling shopping street, in an incident that shows how tensions still simmer in the Asian financial center despite bans on major protests.

The Hong Kong chief executive told reporters early Friday (July 2) that she condemned the knife attack the previous night on a uniformed police officer in the Causeway Bay neighborhood.

"After going through months of riots in the second half of 2019, members of the public abhor violence and treasure very much the stability of society since the implementation of the National Security Law last year," Ms Lam said. 

The attacker was caught on a local website’s video feed walking up behind the officer around 10 pm Thursday and striking him from behind.

The 50-year-old assailant then stabbed himself in the chest before being subdued by police, the government said in a statement. He was pronounced dead at 11:20 pm Thursday.

The officer was in serious condition as of noon Friday, according to a government spokesperson.

The policeman, 28, sustained a 10cm wound on his back and a punctured lung and underwent surgery, police said. 

Speaking to reporters early on Friday, Secretary for Security Chris Tang said the stabbing was a "local lone wolf terrorist attack."

He said police searched the home of the 50-year-old, whom he did not identify, and said materials on his computer showed he was "radicalised," without providing further detail. 

A knife was recovered at the scene, the government said, and the incident is being investigated as an attempted murder and suicide.

Some Hong Kong activists interpreted the attack as an act of desperation against a government that has grown increasingly intolerant of dissent.

Flowers were dropped at the site of the incident and dropped notes reading “R.I.P.” outside police headquarters, local media including the Citizen News website reported.

The police stepped up monitoring of online traffic to guard against copycats, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Some social media users had already encouraged others to launch similar attacks, the Post said.

The incident marred an otherwise muted holiday, after police deployed some 10,000 officers to prevent pro-democracy activists from protesting on the 24th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule.

The handover anniversary is when tens of thousands traditionally rally to protest anything from Beijing’s grip on the city to unaffordable housing.

The date, which has often drawn mass demonstrations in the past, was all the more sensitive this year because it coincided with President Xi Jinping’s efforts to celebrate the Communist Party’s centennial in Beijing.

Police had banned gatherings this year, citing the coronavirus. 

Facing threats of arrest under a powerful national security law imposed a year ago this week, most democracy supporters stayed off the streets or avoided congregating Thursday.

The police also shut Victoria Park, which has been a site of major protests, and searched activists who attempted to gather around the nearby shopping streets of Causeway Bay.

Some 19 people were arrested for acts including possession of weapons, insulting the national flag and obstructing officers, police said.

Still, there were other signs of discontent, with broadcaster Cable TV reporting that the arrest of a man in connection with an incident early Thursday in which flammable objects were thrown at the Government House, where the city’s leaders traditionally reside.

Earlier this week, Ms Lam vowed to press ahead with an unprecedented national security crackdown on the Asian financial center.

She credited the national security law with eliminating “the pervasive violence and social unrest that created anxiety” in the former British colony, a reference to large protests in the summer of 2019.

Ms Lam, who had earlier attended Xi’s speech in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, told reporters that authorities would get to the bottom of the incident. “Police will fully investigate the case and see if there is any organisation behind it,” she said.