17 February 2020
People gather at the MOSTown shopping center on Wednesday to protest the arrest of five staff members of the Ma On Shan mall on charges of obstructing the police. Photo: RTHK
People gather at the MOSTown shopping center on Wednesday to protest the arrest of five staff members of the Ma On Shan mall on charges of obstructing the police. Photo: RTHK

Crowds protest after mall staff arrested for obstructing police

Hundreds of people gathered at a Ma On Shan shopping mall late in the evening Wednesday to voice their support for some mall staff who were arrested earlier in the day on charges of obstructing police officers during an attempted crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Chanting slogans, the crowds at the MOSTown shopping center denounced the police after they arrested five employees of the mall in the wake of an altercation on Monday night, when the mall staffers apparently tried to prevent the police from entering the facility.

The demonstrators called for the immediate release of the mall personnel, deeming the arrests as abuse of power.

Meanwhile, some people launched a signature campaign urging the mall operator not to sack the arrested staff members, RTHK reported.

The demonstration came after the police arrested five mall staffers — four security guards and one customer service officer — on Wednesday over an incident that took place earlier in the week.

On Monday night, anti-riot officers arrived at the MOSTown shopping center, which is owned by leading property firm Henderson Land, after they received a report of vandalism to one of shops in the mall as well as facilities in the nearby Ma On Shan MTR Station.

But security guards refused entry to the officers and tried to block them, prompting the police to accuse the mall staff of obstructing the law enforcement personnel in the execution of their duty. 

Video footage showed four security guards leaning against the glass doors so as to keep officers outside while several other guards told people to step back and disperse from the scene.

After one of the doors was forced open by officers, a guard stretched his arms to stop the police from advancing.

The police argued that officers have the power to enter any premises if they believe a crime suspect is inside and that they do not need a warrant to carry out such activity, RTHK said.

Five mall staffers — three men and two women, aged between 28 and 62 — were charged with obstructing the police and taken into custody. 

According to reports, they were informed by their supervising staff to present themselves at Ma On Shan Police Station on Wednesday afternoon before they were arrested there.

The five were released on bail later at night, but must report back to the police station next month.

The arrests were the first of their kind involving mall security guards amid the ongoing anti-government protests that began in early June, the Hong Kong Economic Journal noted.

After learning about the arrests, several hundred people followed an online appeal and gathered at the MOSTown mall on Wednesday evening.

Slamming the police for alleged misuse of power, the crowd sang protest songs and raised slogans, with some even calling for the police force to be disbanded.

The tense atmosphere prompted mall authorities to close shops for the day early, from 7 pm.

An anti-riot squad entered the mall at 8 pm and faced heckling from a hostile crowd. Fortunately there were no clashes, and the officers left the scene quickly.

After 10 pm, some people gathered on the sidewalk across Ma On Shan Police Station to protest, prompting anti-riot officers to cordon off the crossroads outside the police station for about half an hour.

In a statement, Henderson Land said it deeply regrets what happened at the mall on Monday, but said it cannot comment further because of the possibility of pending legal proceedings.

The company announced that the MOSTown shopping center will remain shut this Saturday and Sunday to prevent any potential clashes.

Civic Party lawmaker and barrister Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu pointed out that the police, according to law, are not allowed to enter private premises simply on the ground of conducting investigations but need to have a clear idea who they want to arrest.

By arresting the MOSTown staff, the police may be trying to scare security guards at other malls into letting police officers enter the premises whenever they wish to, Yueng believes.

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