Activist Ventus Lau among 29 arrested after Kwun Tong clashes

August 26, 2019 16:42
A smart lamppost that was targeted by protesters in Kowloon Bay on Saturday. Authorities say a total of 20 such newly installed lampposts on Sheung Yuet Road were damaged over the weekend. Photo: RTHK

Twenty-nine people -- 19 men and 10 women -- were arrested on Saturday after an anti-extradition bill march in Kwun Tong District led to violent clashes between demonstrators and the police.

The arrested, whose ages ranged from 17 to 52, included Ventus Lau Wing-hong, the activist who had sought permission for the demonstration and helped organize the event.

They will face charges such as unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapons and assaulting police officers. Two of the men face the more serious charge of rioting.

In a statement issued late Saturday night, the government condemned the protesters for vandalizing “public property, committing arson, hurling suspected petrol bombs and attacking police officers with bricks”, and for deliberately damaging “a number of newly installed smart lampposts”.

The facilities were damaged even though the government “has repeatedly clarified that the smart lampposts do not carry any facial recognition function and would not infringe upon personal privacy” but are only used to “collect city data such as traffic and air quality data to facilitate smart city development through open data and the upcoming 5G technology,” a spokesman said.

“The police will strictly follow up on all the illegal acts,” said the government spokesman, calling on the protesters to “stop the violence so that order can be restored in society as soon as possible.”

Law enforcement personnel will use "proportionate use of force" to prevent the situation from worsening, the spokesman said, while calling on protesters to "remain peaceful, rational and non-violent when participating in public events in order to maintain public safety and public order.”

In a separate press release issued in early hours of Sunday, the police also “strongly condemned” the protesters, saying their activities were disturbing peace and order in the city.

At 1 pm on Saturday afternoon, hundreds of people gathered at Tsun Yip Street Playground in Kwun Tong before they marched to the Zero Carbon Building in Kowloon Bay.

The march was aimed at reflecting people's anger over the government’s refusal to meet the demands within society in the wake of the extradition bill fiasco, and also to voice concerns about the potential privacy issues arising from the smart lampposts.

The smart lampposts have become controversial as there had been rumors that they could be used by the government for surveillance of the general public, something that authorities have vehemently denied.

According to the government release, many protesters began at around 2 pm to gather “in the vicinity of Wai Yip Street, Hoi Bun Road and Sheung Yuet Road in Kwun Tong and set up barricades with water-filled barriers, bamboo sticks and other objects paralyzing traffic.”

Meanwhile, some radical protesters “used electric saws to damage a number of smart lampposts on Sheung Yuet Road, posing serious threat to the safety of people at scene and road users,” it said.

“Protesters also hurled hard objects and petrol bombs at police officers, causing damage to police vehicles and leg injuries to a reporter,” the government said in the press release.

“Since around 8 pm, protesters gathered in Wong Tai Sin and Sham Shui Po” and "blocked a number of roads including Lung Cheung Road and Yen Chow Street, aimed laser beams at Police officers and hurled bricks and hard objects at the Police cordon lines.”

Police later conducted a dispersal operation, including using tear gas and rubber bullets, after multiple warnings issued to the protesters gathered in Kwun Tong, Wong Tai Sin and Sham Shui Po went futile.

According to some reports, one protester may have been injured in his left eye after being hit by a rubber bullet during a clash in Wai Yip Street in Kwun Tong.

Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung arrived at the podium of Telford Plaza in Kowloon Bay to argue with officers about their use of force.

According to the Hospital Authority, seven people had been received at public hospitals as of 8 pm Saturday as a result of the clashes, with two of them -- both male -- in serious condition,

In the violence on Saturday, a total of 20 smart lampposts on Sheung Yuet Road in Kowloon Bay were reported to have been damaged in various degrees.

“Regarding an image of a device circulating on the Internet showing a device "BLE Locator Model: SPLD01" which is believed to be a component part inside the smart lamppost that was torn down, the device in question is the Bluetooth beacon (beacon) installed in the lamppost”, a spokesman for the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) clarified on Sunday.

The OGCIO spokesman added that the firm responsible for the supply and installation of the device was a “local small enterprise”. As per the information displayed on the beacon, the installation was done by an entity named Ticktack Technology Ltd.

“The two shareholders/directors and all its employees are local citizens born and brought up in Hong Kong,” the spokesman said.

Government data shows that each of the lampposts had cost about HK$140,000.

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