Hong Kong protests spark standoff in Sheffield
Protesters had bottles thrown at them and faced intimidation in Sheffield city centre when they tried to hold a peaceful protest against an anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong.
The group, mostly students, was running a stall on Fargate throughout the day with information about the political situation in the former British colony and were about to pack up when dozens of other students arrived and started being hostile towards them.
The group said at one point a crutch was stolen from a woman passing by which they believed was going to be used to hit them. They also said a beer bottle was launched at their group and a flag was stolen and broken.
Councillor Ben Miskell said he called emergency services and some police community support officers arrived but struggled to get them to take the details of the ‘problematic’ protesters.
He said: “I am really shocked. You’ve got people who are goading and being physically aggressive, throwing bottles and singing the Chinese national anthem in a way to intimidate pro-democracy campaigners.
“Sheffield has a proud history of supporting democracy, these students are here and we want them here but it is important that they stick to British laws. The right to the freedom to protest and the fact we are a democracy is sacrosanct.”
One man, whose parents live in Hong Kong, said: “We’ve had a stall here just to tell the general public what’s been going on in Hong Kong, it’s largely been peaceful – people are really concerned about what’s been happening there. We were just about to wind down when a bunch of people from mainland China started congregating opposite us.
“We’ve not done anything illegal, we’ve just exercised our right to demonstrate.
“There is lots of negative news from the Chinese mainland state media that paints the Hong Kong protesters as rioters being violent toward the police but in actual fact it’s the other way around.
“We are very focused on the extradition bill and the fall out from that. We want an independent inquiry into the police brutality, we want those who are illegally detained and arrested to be released and for the government to withdraw the characterisation of riots.”
Coun Miskell said he would be meeting with the Hong Kong students the following day and seeing what support he could provide.
He said: “My worry is everyone has a right to freedom of protest and gathering and that’s all well and good but there’s a certain irony here that actually the mainland Chinese students are trying to abuse that right to peaceful protest by trying to close down the debate and rights of the people from Hong Kong to exercise their right to protest.
“It’s really important that while you’re protesting that you exercise a bit of restraint and you stick by the laws of the land in Britain. It’s clearly not acceptable to throw bottles at people or steal crutches from people who are trying to hear from protesters.
“I’d like to see that future protests are policed properly and people are given the full protection that they should expect in Britain.”
A spokesperson from South Yorkshire Police said: “We received a number of calls about a protest on Fargate, at about 5pm this afternoon.
“Callers reported that people were fighting, however from CCTV monitoring and PCSOs at the scene, it doesn’t look as though a fight actually broke out. PCSOs were in attendance and several other officers went following the calls, to provide reassurance and assist the groups when leaving.
“We have had one report from someone saying a bottle had been smashed, however no reports of injuries.”
Hong Kong has been a ‘special administrative region’ of China since 1997 but has its own system of law and government.
However, in recent years there has been increasing opposition to a perceived growing influence of Beijing on Hong Kong's society and politics.
This year there have been months of unrest triggered by proposed changes to an extradition law. The changes would have made it possible for China to extradite people to the mainland from Hong Kong, which some felt would put Hong Kongers at risk of persecution in unfair trials.
The proposed changes have since been shelved – but protests have continued.