HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong police arrested a 24-year-old man at the airport early on Thursday on suspicion of stabbing and wounding an officer during a demonstration against a new national security law imposed by Beijing on the financial hub.
The arrest followed protests on Wednesday in which police fired water cannon and tear gas and arrested more than 300 people as demonstrators defied the sweeping security legislation introduced by China to snuff out dissent in the former British colony.
There were no signs of protests on Thursday.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said the new law was a betrayal of the Sino-British agreement on Hong Kong’s future after it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
“The national security law that China passed and now is imposing on Hong Kong is a - it’s a betrayal of the international agreement that they signed, and ultimately it’s unacceptable to freedom-loving people around the world,” he told CNBC on Thursday.
Hong Kong police posted pictures on Twitter from Wednesday’s disturbances showing on officer with a bleeding arm saying he was stabbed by “rioters holding sharp objects”. The suspects fled while bystanders offered no help, the police said.
A police spokesman said the arrested man was surnamed Wong but could not confirm whether he was leaving Hong Kong or working at the airport.
Media, citing unidentified sources, said the suspect was on board a Cathay Pacific flight to London due to depart just before midnight. A witness said three police vehicles drove towards a gate as a Cathay Pacific plane was preparing to take off and about 10 riot police ran up the bridge to the aircraft.
The suspect held an expired British National (Overseas) passport, a special status which provides a route to citizenship, the source told the Cable TV station.
Cathay Pacific did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying on Wednesday posted on Facebook that a bounty of HK$500,000 ($64,500) would be offered to anyone helping catch the fugitive.
China’s parliament adopted the security law in response to protests last year triggered by fears Beijing was stifling the city’s freedoms and threatening its judicial independence, guaranteed by a “one country, two systems” formula agreed when it returned to China.
Beijing denies interfering.
Hong Kong and Beijing officials have said the law is vital to plug holes in national security defences exposed by the protests, pointing to the city’s failure to pass such laws by itself as required under its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
Another unfulfilled constitutional requirement for Hong Kong is to introduce universal suffrage, the protesters’ main demand.
The new law punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. It will also see mainland security agencies in Hong Kong for the first time and allows extradition to the mainland for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.
Ten of the arrests made on Wednesday involved violations of the new law, police said, with most of the 360 or so others involved illegal assembly and other offences.
Demosisto, a pro-democracy group led by Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, disbanded on Tuesday, hours after China’s parliament passed the legislation. Prominent group member Nathan Law said on Thursday he had left the territory.
“I have already left Hong Kong and continue the advocacy work on the international level,” he said on Facebook. “Based on risk assessment, I shall not reveal too much about my personal whereabouts and situation now... I do not know the date of my return.”
Simon Cheng, who worked for the British consulate in Hong Kong for almost two years until he fled after he said he was tortured by China’s secret police, said activists were discussing a plan to create an unofficial parliament-in-exile to keep the flame of democracy alive.
In the latest diplomatic tension over the law, China said Britain would bear all consequences for any offer to Hong Kong citizens of a path to settlement.
China also denounced the United States after the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would penalise banks doing business with Chinese officials who implement the national security law in Hong Kong.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the United States “must stop advancing the bill, let alone sign it or implement” it. [L1N2E82R1]
Democratically ruled and Chinese-claimed Taiwan advised its citizens to avoid unnecessary visits to or transit through Hong Kong, Macau or mainland China. Britain and Canada have also updated their travel advisories for Hong Kong, warning their citizens of detention risks.
Apparently seeking to allay fears that judges for national security cases would be cherry-picked by Hong Kong’s unpopular, pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma said they would be appointed on the basis of judicial and professional qualities, rather than politics.
Hong Kong’s independent judiciary, one of many freedoms guaranteed when it returned to Chinese rule, has long been considered key to its success as a glittering global financial hub.
Additional reporting by Anne Marie Roantree and Clare Jim in Hong Kong, Natalie Thomas and Guy Faulconbridge in London and Lisa Lambert and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie