HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s protesters tried on Wednesday to maintain a united front and take stock of the movement’s gains and losses, as the police said they had arrested 12 people involved in clashes near the city’s legislature Monday.
The arrests came after Beijing and the local government condemned a core group of young demonstrators who stormed the legislature on Monday.
The Chinese government has urged city officials and the police to restore social order and bring to justice those responsible for Monday’s protest, in which dozens of mostly young activists armed with metal bars and makeshift battering rams charged and briefly occupied Hong Kong’s legislative office building. The city’s leader, Carrie Lam, and the police have promised to pursue those responsible for the damage.
The Hong Kong police said Wednesday that they had arrested 11 men and one woman, with ages ranging from 14 to 36, on charges that included possession of offensive weapons, unlawful assembly, assaulting a police officer, and obstructing a police officer.
The alleged offenses occurred Monday morning, when protesters raised their own flag at the legislature and then tried to disrupt an official flag-raising ceremony at a nearby convention center. The police have not announced arrests of any protesters who broke into the legislature.
The forcible occupation of the legislature sent shock waves through this financial hub, known for its efficiency and orderliness. The question now is whether the largely leaderless protest movement can maintain enough unity — and public support — to push its demands, which center on a complete withdrawal of a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China; or whether Monday’s vandalism will irreparably splinter the movement or damage its credibility.
The violence could deal a blow to the protesters’ efforts to retain the moral high ground in their dispute with the authorities.
The police also said on Wednesday that they had arrested eight people this week for disclosing police officers’ personal data online without their consent.
A police spokesman, Mohammed Swalikh of the police force’s Technology Crime Division, told reporters Wednesday evening that members of the police force had reported more than 800 incidents of harassment of themselves or family members in the wake of the release of their data, a practice known as “doxxing.”
His announcement came a few weeks after critics of police conduct began creating open-source databases in which users shared officers’ phone numbers and the names of their spouses and high schools, among other details, with some lists referring to the police as dogs.
The police also said Wednesday that they had arrested five men and one woman on charges of possession of offensive weapons, assault and fighting in a public place on Sunday, when supporters of the police rallied.
The protest movement is divided to some degree over how best to push its demands as some protesters have started engaging in more militant action. Many in the movement agree on what those demands should be — the full withdrawal of the extraditions bill, which Mrs. Lam suspended last month; the resignation of Mrs. Lam, the city’s chief executive; and the opening of an independent inquiry into reports of police brutality against protesters at an earlier demonstration. But the protesters differ on whether destructive acts help or hurt the cause.
The protests on Monday started out with a march that was intended to disrupt the Hong Kong government’s celebration of the anniversary of the territory’s return to China from Britain.
But the police beat back those protesters and doused them with pepper spray, and a core group of demonstrators later turned to target the Legislative Council. The police later said that during the confrontations, some protesters threw a toxic substance at officers that could cause itchiness and difficulty breathing, and that 13 officers sought medical treatment.
As the protesters bashed their way into the legislature, hundreds of thousands of other demonstrators joined a peaceful afternoon march calling for Mrs. Lam to resign.
Several protesters said they did not take part in storming the legislature but defended it as an act of desperation by demonstrators who felt that peaceful tactics had failed to persuade the government to meet the demands of the broader movement.
Billy Li, head of the Progressive Lawyers Group, an association of pro-democracy lawyers and students, said that while the use of unlawful force against property could legally be considered violence, the government’s emphasis on the protesters’ vandalism was politically motivated.
“They are using the protesters’ violence to shift the public’s attention away from their demands,” Mr. Li said.
Katherine Lam, a 39-year-old data analyst who joined recent marches, said she supported the younger protesters because they were exposing themselves to the risk of arrest.
“Nobody supports violent demonstration per se,” Ms. Lam said. “But these guys earned my sympathy and I don’t want to leave them alone as they put their life on the line and were fighting for us all.”
But as the protesters debated their next steps on social media, some raised concerns that a destructive approach — in contrast with demonstrators who had earlier been praised for cleaning up trash after huge rallies — would alienate the public.
Officials invited reporters to the legislature on Wednesday to show them rooms strewn with snacks, defaced portraits and graffitied walls. A few binders of confidential documents spilled from shelves.
“I think that this type of action will gradually drain the momentum built by two million protesters, because it clearly creates a riot-like impact,” said Candice Lee, 38, a social worker who had participated in previous marches against the extradition bill with her children. She said she believed Monday’s occupation would “cause peaceful protesters who have always been supporting them to part ways with them in disappointment.
The discussions within the protest movement were occurring as pressure against it was building from the city’s pro-establishment camp and its patrons in Beijing.
China’s leadership on Tuesday accused the protesters of being “extreme radicals” who had acted illegally.
Among those who pushed back against the condemnation was Anson Chan, a democracy advocate who was Hong Kong’s second-highest official until her retirement in 2001.
“Violence does not solve anything, but I think the chief executive and the governing team should ask themselves what has led to this degree of violence,” Mrs. Chan said. She said the cause was pent-up outrage over years of not being heard by an establishment that is more concerned with pleasing its backers in Beijing than with the interests of the city’s residents.
Hong Kong’s decision to push the extradition bill and its arrest of nonviolent protesters has started a war of words between China and Britain that has threatened to turn into a more serious diplomatic dispute.
The foreign secretary of Britain, Jeremy Hunt, denounced the violent protests, but expressed support for the peaceful ones, and threatened “consequences” if China failed to accord Hong Kong residents the civil liberties assured them under the terms of the “one country, two systems” agreement.
China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, said the comments by British ministers amounted to “gross interference” in Chinese affairs and an endorsement of “violent lawbreakers.”
“I would like to reiterate that Hong Kong is China’s special administrative region,” Mr. Liu said.“It is not what it used to be under British colonial rule.”
Article originally appeared in New York Times on 3 July 2019.