Six students were among 12 suspected anti-government protesters arrested for an illegal gathering at a Hong Kong public housing estate on Tuesday night, an act police said only added to the chaos as the city battles the coronavirus, now dubbed Covid-19.
Officers were called to the area outside Kwai Luen Estate in Kwai Chung at about 10.15pm in response to a call saying a group of people were gathering and shouting.
The 10 men and two women, aged from 14 to 28, were arrested about 400 metres away from an area where anti-government protesters had set up road barricades half an hour earlier.
Reflective safety vests with labels reading “first aid”, communication devices, posters printed with political demands and slogans, gloves, helmets and gas masks were confiscated from the group, police said.
Speaking on Wednesday, Superintendent Iu Wing-kan, assistant Kwai Tsing district commander, said police were investigating whether the 12 suspects were linked to the illegal road blockage and if they had falsely identified themselves as first aid workers.
“Initial investigation showed the arrested suspects did not have any qualification to administer first aid,” he said.
All 12 were arrested on suspicion of unlawful assembly and possession of instruments fit for unlawful purpose.
The superintendent went on to condemn those who set up the road barricades, saying the act brought “more trouble and chaos to the community” as the city was fighting the outbreak of the coronavirus, which on Wednesday was officially named Covid-19 by the World Health Organisation.
Hong Kong has experienced eight months of protests sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill, which would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong does not have existing agreements, including Taiwan and mainland China.
Since the protests began in June, radicals have destroyed traffic lights and set street fires, attacked police stations with petrol bombs, vandalised MTR stations and lines, shops and banks, and occupied universities.
They have also attacked police officers on the front line, hurling petrol bombs and bricks.
Police have responded by firing more than 16,000 rounds of tear gas, 10,000 rubber bullets, 2,000 beanbag rounds and 19 live rounds.
So far, more than 7,000 people have been arrested for various protest-related offences, including rioting, possessing explosives and firearms without a licence, and arson.
According to police, two in five of those arrested were students, with more than 1,100 still in secondary school.
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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.