Hong Kong police entered two shopping centres in Mong Kok to disperse dozens of people who had gathered on Sunday, after online calls for a demonstration to mark one year since officers stormed into a nearby railway station to make arrests during an anti-government protest.
More than 100 officers stopped and searched those in the Moko and Langham Place malls, issuing fines to 29 people for breaking coronavirus social-distancing rules which prohibit public gatherings of more than two people.
Calls had earlier circulated online for people to march to Prince Edward MTR station from Langham Place to mark the anniversary of one of the most controversial episodes of last year’s social unrest.
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Last August 31, in chaotic scenes, radical protesters clashed with riot police, who charged into the underground station to make arrests.
While the proposed march failed to attract participants, dozens of people gathered at the two malls instead, shouting slogans and playing anti-government songs.
At around 4pm, police entered Moko and ordered people to disperse. They set up cordons and moved journalists along, as more chants broke out from different floors of the mall.
Officers searched a number of people and issued HK$2,000 (US$256) penalty tickets for breaking the two-person rule.
Police also went to Langham Place at around 6pm, dispersing crowds inside the mall.
The force said in a statement that it had spotted calls for the public to take part in unauthorised assemblies in Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui.
“Police officers entered the mall for law enforcement actions and warned the crowd to stop gathering immediately or they would be summonsed or arrested,” the statement said.
“Police warn the crowd to stop gathering and leave immediately … [we] severely condemn any irresponsible act that disregards public health.”
Meanwhile, police arrested a 16-year-old boy and two men in Mong Kok. The teenager and a 24-year-old man were stopped separately in Mong Kok MTR station in the afternoon and were found, respectively, with an air gun and an airsoft grenade, used by war gamers. The other man, 39, who had an extendable baton in his possession, was on Portland Street near Nelson Street when he was arrested at 5pm.
During last year’s August 31 chaos, journalists and first-aiders were denied entry to Prince Edward station after it closed because of violence. The MTR Corporation was forced to close the badly vandalised station for two days.
Online speculation revolved around a revision to the number injured in the incident, sparking rumours that people had died at the hands of police. The police force, Hospital Authority and fire service repeatedly debunked the accusations.
The government also issued a strong denial last September, calling the rumours malicious and stressing that no protesters were killed during the police action.