Courts arson mars massive peaceful march

Top News | Stella Wong and Jane Cheung 9 Dec 2019

A claimed 800,000 anti-government protesters came out for the Civil Human Rights Front march yesterday in another massive show of people power just two weeks after pro-democrats swept to a landslide victory in district elections.

Police put the turnout at 183,000.

The massive, but largely peaceful, rally came on the eve of the sixth-month anniversary of the start of the social unrest on June 9 that has roiled Hong Kong and brought it to a deepening crisis.

No tear gas or bullets were fired, but the entrances of the High Court in Admiralty and the Court of Final Appeal in Central were set alight - before immediately being put out - with the Department of Justice warning the action could damage the good reputation of Hong Kong as a city with rule of law.

The government said in a statement that the march was largely peaceful but condemned the arson at the courts. "Any attack or vandalism targeting the judiciary will pose huge damage to the Hong Kong rule of law, which is not accepted by society," a government spokesman said, adding that every citizen must respect the courts, judges and their rulings.

The sea of black crawled from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to Chater Garden in Central in over six hours shouting and waving flags and banners proclaiming, "Five demands, not one less. Stand with Hong Kong. Fight for Freedom."

It was the first time in four months that the front - known for organizing the city's two biggest marches - managed to secure a letter of no objection from police.

Front convener Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit said the march enabled 800,000 Hongkongers to voice their desire for the five demands and again demanded that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor set up an independent commission of inquiry.

"If Carrie Lam has done genuine reflection, she should set up a real independent commission of inquiry immediately," Sham said.

Despite seeing a slight dip in the turnout, he said: "Some may compare it with the turnout of June 16 protest, but given that we only had four days to hold a press conference [and do publicity work], I believe this is normal."

The march was led by Sham, pro-democracy politician Lee Cheuk-yan, Eastern district councillor Andrew Chiu Ka-yin and singers Wong Yiu-ming and Tommy Yuen Man-on.

The front organized the massive march of one million people on June 9, which kick-started the anti-fugitive protests, and the two-million march on June 16.

Sham also criticized police for setting up cordon lines in multiple spots, describing them as "attempts to create a scary atmosphere."

As it was also International Human Rights Day yesterday, Sham said the front hoped to tell the world about the rights situation in Hong Kong.

"I'd like to thank international friends for supporting Hong Kong," he said. "We hope to connect with international cities to fight for human rights through marches."

Protesters also shouted the march was for Tibet and Xinjiang.

Around 6pm, one of the High Court entrances in Admiralty had its closed roll-up gate set on fire. Broken glass and a towel were scattered on the ground. The fire was put out before firemen arrived.

Graffiti saying "Rule of law has died" was also sprayed on the external walls of the High Court.

An hour later, an entrance of the Court of Final Appeal in Central was set ablaze after protesters hurled a Molotov cocktail at it. The fire was put out by protesters.

The Department of Justice said arson at the court was a disruption of social order.

"Arson is a serious crime that threatens the lives and properties of the public," it said in a statement, adding that the maximum penalty for arson is a life sentence.

A Chiyu Banking branch on Hennessy Road in Wan Chai was vandalized by thugs who broke glass doors and damaged chairs, tables and television sets.

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