HONG KONG — Thousands of police officers in riot gear filled the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, stifling efforts to protest the postponement of legislative elections and China’s imposition of a national security law that gives the authorities sweeping new powers to pursue critics.
A large police presence was seen across the Kowloon Peninsula, where some activists had called for a march on the day the elections were initially scheduled to take place despite social distancing rules that prohibit mass gatherings. Occasional pro-democracy chants broke out as small groups wound through side streets, but the number of demonstrators remained small compared with the huge crowds that gathered last year.
Officers stopped and searched several people and arrested at least 90 people suspected of unlawful assembly and other charges, according to police statements. One person was arrested under the National Security Law after chanting a pro-independence slogan, the police said.
The activists Figo Chan, Leung Kwok-hung and Raphael Wong of the League of Social Democrats, a leftist pro-democracy group, were among those arrested, according to a post on Mr. Chan’s Facebook page. A photographer for a digital news outlet was taken away in a police vehicle, according to his employer, Truth Media Hong Kong.
Video footage captured by reporters showed riot police officers grabbing a young girl and pinning her on the ground. Other videos showed plainclothes officers deploying pepper spray at close range and dragging a man across asphalt and sidewalks before putting him in handcuffs.
The police also arrested on Sunday an activist accused of “uttering seditious words,” under a little-used, colonial-era sedition law. The activist, Tam Tak-chi, a leading figure in the political group People Power, had organized street booths at which he handed out face masks and delivered criticisms of the government through a loudspeaker.
“Most of the time, the words he uses are stirring up hatred and contempt for the government and also raising the societal discontent among the Hong Kong people,” said Li Kwai-wah, a senior police superintendent.
He said that Mr. Tam had set up street booths on 29 occasions between June and August, framing them as “anti-epidemic health talks.”
Mr. Tam’s supporters said his arrest was a sign of the shrinking freedom of speech in Hong Kong, and a sign that the government is increasingly targeting dissent. James To, a pro-democracy lawmaker, said that Mr. Tam’s arrest was a violation of his right to free speech.
“The government’s violations of civil rights, including the aforementioned arrest, is the reason for the people’s discontent and even hatred,” Mr. To wrote in a statement, adding that the government was imitating the methods of authoritarian governments when cracking down on critics and watchdogs.
Mr. Li, who heads the national security department within the police force, said that the force had initially considered arresting Mr. Tam under a sweeping security law, but in consultations with the Department of Justice decided that a colonial-era law against “seditious intent,” was more appropriate. Mr. Li added that officers within the national security branch could use laws other than the new security law when making arrests.
He added that the unsanctioned gathering of protesters Sunday afternoon would heighten the risk for transmissions of the coronavirus. “Why all of a sudden do so many people have to gather and increase the risk for others?” he said. “The crowds are there. Our police officers are there. Our reporters are there. So out of the blue, there will be a lot of people and our social distance will shrink.”
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated September 4, 2020
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
- In the beginning, the coronavirus seemed like it was primarily a respiratory illness — many patients had fever and chills, were weak and tired, and coughed a lot, though some people don’t show many symptoms at all. Those who seemed sickest had pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome and received supplemental oxygen. By now, doctors have identified many more symptoms and syndromes. In April, the C.D.C. added to the list of early signs sore throat, fever, chills and muscle aches. Gastrointestinal upset, such as diarrhea and nausea, has also been observed. Another telltale sign of infection may be a sudden, profound diminution of one’s sense of smell and taste. Teenagers and young adults in some cases have developed painful red and purple lesions on their fingers and toes — nicknamed “Covid toe” — but few other serious symptoms.
Why is it safer to spend time together outside?
- Outdoor gatherings lower risk because wind disperses viral droplets, and sunlight can kill some of the virus. Open spaces prevent the virus from building up in concentrated amounts and being inhaled, which can happen when infected people exhale in a confined space for long stretches of time, said Dr. Julian W. Tang, a virologist at the University of Leicester.
Why does standing six feet away from others help?
- The coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets from your mouth and nose, especially when you cough or sneeze. The C.D.C., one of the organizations using that measure, bases its recommendation of six feet on the idea that most large droplets that people expel when they cough or sneeze will fall to the ground within six feet. But six feet has never been a magic number that guarantees complete protection. Sneezes, for instance, can launch droplets a lot farther than six feet, according to a recent study. It’s a rule of thumb: You should be safest standing six feet apart outside, especially when it’s windy. But keep a mask on at all times, even when you think you’re far enough apart.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
“If you organize, incite or participate in such gatherings, you are breaking the law and will be arrested,” he added.
While Hong Kong has seen an increase in coronavirus cases over the past month, that wave has largely been brought under control. The city announced 21 new cases on Sunday, after more than a week of daily totals in the single or low double digits.
The Hong Kong government, with the aid of a team from mainland China, began a universal testing program last week it said was necessary to break hidden chains of virus transmission. Some activists and health care workers urged residents to boycott the plan, calling it a waste of resources motivated by a political desire to burnish the image of China’s central government.
Health officials said on Thursday that six positive cases had been found in the first batch of 128,000 tested in the program, including four people with previously confirmed cases who were treated in hospitals. Five more cases detected through the program were announced on Sunday. About one million people in the city of 7.5 million have registered for tests.