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Ventus Lau arrested hours after rally ends in chaos

2020-01-19 HKT 20:11
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  • Ventus Lau arrested hours after rally ends in chaos
Police arrested activist Ventus Lau on Sunday evening in front of bewildered reporters who had just finished interviewing him about a chaotic rally that was cut short by police hours earlier.

Moments after Lau finished speaking, two officers came up to Lau from both sides – backed up by riot officers – took him into a car and whisked him away in Wanchai.

An associate who was next to Lau said they had informed him that he was being arrested for alleged incitement, and for violating the terms of the police’s ‘letter of no objection’ for a rally in Central earlier on Sunday.

However, rally organisers said they were left dumbfounded by the allegations, saying the alleged incitement police appear to be referring to was Lau’s wholly ‘legal and reasonable’ request to a plainclothes officer to show his warrant card during the rally.

The officer – who was later attacked and left bloodied and battered along with two of his colleagues – had demanded Lau call an early halt to the protest due to clashes outside Chater Garden, where huge crowds had gathered.

Some people had sprayed graffiti on a Bank of China building, set fires on roads, vandalised traffic lights and dug up bricks during the protest, which was called to urge overseas countries to impose sanctions on Hong Kong officials who undermine human rights.

A plainclothed officer then approached Lau inside the square to ask him to tell the crowd that the rally was over.

“I immediately urged the officer to show his warrant card to prove his identity”, Lau told reporters before his arrest. “But he refused to do so until a [large] crowd were attracted to the spot to see what’s happened. And only after the situation was quite uncontrollable, did he… show his pass to me”, he added.

After the officer’s identity was verified, Lau then announced to the crowd that the rally was over.

Organisers said the other police allegation – that Lau had violated the agreed terms of the rally by allowing too many people to pack into Chater Garden – also “made no sense.”

Shortly before declaring an end to the rally, Lau had already urged participants to leave the area, after police representatives told rally marshalls that conflicts were happening in the area.

Lau said his calls appeared to be working, and people inside the square had been filing out towards Admiralty in an orderly manner on the sidewalk, but minutes later, police fired tear gas in the area to disperse the crowd.

“Everything happening today is the consequence of a collection of mistakes committed by the police”, Lau said.

He said the police ban on a proposed march to Causeway Bay had directly led to overcrowded conditions in and around Chater Garden; the plainclothes officer’s refusal to immediately show his warrant card had raised the temperature; and firing tear gas in a crowded area without giving adequate time for people to leave only made things worse.

“Every single decision is wrong, so the police need to bear full responsibility for every conflict [that happened] today”, Lau concluded.

He also said organisers estimate the turnout of the rally to be around 150,000, and said there would have been more had the gathering not been curtailed, and police not used ‘heavy-handed’ tactics like stopping and searching large numbers of people in the area even ahead of the rally. Police put the size of the crowd at the peak of the rally at 11,680.

“I believe that the people would not be intimidated,” Lau said. “Maybe they would find peaceful marches and peaceful assemblies not possible anymore, but they will find a way out. We are insisting on a philosophy: be water. We don’t only use one strategy to protest, we may have various strategies, including a general strike… so that we can continue with our movement in the future.”


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Last updated: 2020-01-19 HKT 20:41