The riot police spread across a city in Hong Kong on Tuesday to stamp out rallies marking the one-year anniversary of a government demonstrator attack on demonstrators that sparked sentiment against Beijing.
The officers used pepper spray to disperse small groups of protesters and reporters in a shopping mall in Yuen Long city near the China border.
Hundreds were arrested and searched throughout the night, and the police said they arrested at least five people when officials with loudspeakers warned of "illegal gathering."
At some point, a police banner was hoisted, saying the crowd was violating a new security law that Beijing imposed on the city after a man waved his own sign with the popular protest slogan, "Free Hong Kong. Revolution of Our Time."
Police said they fined 79 coronavirus emergency measures that ban groups of more than four people. Pro-democracy activists and reporters in yellow press coats were among the tickets, according to AFP journalists.
The attack on Yuen Long station was a crucial moment in the big protests against democracy last year. He intensified the already swirling hostility towards the police and announced a dramatic increase in political violence.
At least 40 people were injured when a group of men with sticks attacked protesters who returned from a rally in the city.
Videos of bloody beatings went viral, accusing the police of being too slow to respond and allowing attackers to gather and leave unmolested.
The force denies collusion allegations, saying 37 people have been arrested for the attack, some associated with gangs of the "triad" of organized crime.
So far, seven have been charged.
In a statement on Tuesday, the police said they "understood the concerns of the public" and said the investigation was "a high priority".
More than 9,000 people were arrested in protests against democracy last year, and around 1,500 were indicted.
Local lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting was one of those who were beaten in last year's attack.
He was among those fined Tuesday when he tried to hold a small rally outside the train station.
"I don't think the police can stand up for their own dark and ugly side in the July 21 attack, so they're preventing us lawmakers from speaking for people," he told reporters afterwards.
"But all Hong Kongers saw it clearly (the attack) last year," he added.
Yuen Long is a labor city in Hong Kong's rural New Territories on mainland China. It is a stronghold of decidedly pro-Beijing groups and triad gangs.
The attack sparked major protests from the residents and left the community deeply divided.
"I feel helpless," a restaurant owner, who only gave her first name Gigi, told AFP on Tuesday.
"Everyone knows what happened that day, and yet the government refuses to face the truth."
As she spoke, another man shouted that democracy-friendly protesters were trying to launch a "color revolution" – an accusation that Beijing has made many times.
Anger over authoritarian China is now pervading parts of semi-autonomous Hong Kong.
Last year’s rally-friendly rallies lasted for seven months, and violent clashes between police and demonstrators became routine.
In response, Beijing imposed a comprehensive national security law on the city last month. China says it will restore stability and not hinder freedoms.
However, the law has already been used to criminalize some forms of peaceful protest, such as advocating independence or greater autonomy.
Similar mainland national security laws are used to suppress criticism of China's leaders.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)