HONG KONG—Hundreds of protesters gathered in shopping malls across Hong Kong on May 13, flouting coronavirus-related social distancing rules to mock unpopular Chief Executive Carrie Lam on her birthday.
Police, both in riot gear and plainclothes, entered some of the malls and at least one arrest was made after officers pushed back a crowd using pepper spray. Most shops had to close.
It was the latest sign social unrest was resurfacing in Hong Kong as the city has proven relatively successful at tackling the coronavirus, having recorded 1,051 cases and four deaths.
While the government has allowed bars, gyms, and cinemas to reopen and civil servants to come back to work, it maintains that group gatherings should be limited to eight people.
Lam, who turns 63, is the Chinese-ruled city’s least popular leader since its handover from Britain in 1997, having tried to push a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China last year, sparking large-scale protests.
“I wish Carrie Lam can live a long life so that she can bear the responsibility of the decisions she made,” 20-year-old protester Ken said. “We will continue to resist. If we don’t try to fight, they will just try to suppress us more severely.”
In the New Town Plaza mall in the working class Sha Tin district, protesters hung up banners reading “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times,” and chanted “There are no rioters, only tyranny” and “Disband Hong Kong police.”
In Sha Tin, protesters taped posters with her face on glass windows, one reading “Happy birthday and go to hell soon” and another “Because of you, many didn’t have a happy Mother’s Day.”
Social distancing rules imposed to help contain coronavirus contagion has largely put a brake on protests since January.
But, on May 10, which was Mother’s Day, hundreds showed up at multiple shopping malls across the city to chant slogans and sing protest songs. The protesters had originally wanted to hold a march, but the police denied their application citing the new social distancing rules.
Hong Kong police arrested about 230 protesters for offenses such as unlawful assembly.
Although the extradition bill has been scrapped, protesters continue to demand an independent inquiry into the police handling of protests last year, as well as universal suffrage—a promise enshrined in the city’s mini-constitution.
Pro-democracy demonstrators are further incensed by renewed calls from Beijing and pro-government officials in Hong Kong to enact national security legislation, known as Article 23, which is also a requirement of the Basic Law.
A previous attempt to pass such legislation in 2003 was met with mass protests amid fears it would erode the city’s liberties, agreed with Britain as part of the “one country, two systems” handover deal in 1997.
Protesters are also angry at the arrests of 15 pro-democracy activists on April 18, the biggest crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement since last year’s protests erupted. Those arrested include Martin Lee, former lawmaker and founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, and Jimmy Lai, founder of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily.
On May 13, three special rapporteurs of the United Nations issued a statement, urging Hong Kong authorities to immediately drop the criminal prosecution of the 15 activists.
“Nobody should be subjected to administrative or criminal sanctions for taking part in a peaceful protest, even if the regime governing protests requires an authorization,” the statement said.
It added: “We fear the chilling effect these arrests aim to have on peaceful protests in Hong Kong.”
By Jessie Pang and Joyce Zhou. The Epoch Times contributed to this report.