Hong Kong airport wins court order banning protests

Kyodo News

Posted at Aug 14 2019 10:54 PM

Anti-government demonstrators apologize for yesterday's clashes with police at the airport in Hong Kong China August 14, 2019. Thomas Peter, Reuters

Hong Kong's airport authority said Wednesday it has won a court order banning demonstrations that hinder airport use following a clash overnight between police and protesters who had gathered at the airport.

China's Hong Kong affairs office the same day condemned what it called "near-terrorist acts" at Hong Kong International Airport, including an incident Tuesday in which a reporter from a Chinese news outlet was roughed up by anti-government protesters.

After days of protests disrupted airport operations and forced cancellations of hundreds of flights, the airport appeared to be returning to normal on Wednesday, although over 100 flights were canceled, according to the airport's website.

The Airport Authority said it has obtained an interim injunction to "restrain persons from unlawfully and willfully obstructing or interfering with the proper use" of the airport and from "attending or participating in any demonstration or protest in the airport" other than in designated areas.

Police officers were deployed inside the building and airport staff stopped people other than travelers and authorized personnel from entering it after copies of the injunction were posted, local media reported.

Airport Authority Chief Executive Fred Lam said 979 flights had been canceled since Friday -- 421 flights on Tuesday alone -- due to the demonstrations, cutting the amount of passengers handled by 40 percent.

He told reporters that demonstrations can only be held in designated areas with prior approval. "But we have no plan to approve any demonstration in the near future," he said.

Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's flagship carrier group, said in a statement that a total of 272 departure and arrival flights were canceled for Monday and Tuesday, affecting more than 55,000 passengers, while 622 flights were operated.

"Tens of thousands of passengers had their travel plans disrupted as a result, and even more concerning were reports of obstructive behavior directed towards travelers. We believe such actions are unacceptable," the company said in a statement.

Local media also reported that Cathay has sacked two pilots for their involvement in recent protests.

Thousands of people protesting a now-suspended extradition bill and allegedly excessive use of force by the police flocked to the airport on Lantau Island for two consecutive days from Monday, blocking departing passengers from accessing the customs area.

Late Tuesday night, a clash broke out between riot police and protesters, against whom the officers used pepper spray and batons.

Protesters assaulted a man suspected of being an undercover agent from mainland China, according to local media. A mainland Chinese was separately held and tied up by protesters who claimed he was taking photos of them. The latter was later confirmed to be a reporter from Chinese media Global Times.

Hu Xijun, editor in chief of Global Times, confirmed on his Twitter account that the man held at the airport was reporter Fu Guohao on an assignment at the airport. "I'd like to take this opportunity to condemn all acts of violence against journalists," he said.

The All-China Journalists Association, a self-proclaimed nongovernmental organization under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, released a statement on Wednesday also expressing "strong condemnation" over the assault on Fu by "some thugs."

The association called on the authorities "to severely punish the illegal acts that infringe on the personal safety of journalists and the rights and interests of news reporting, and to bring the offenders to justice as soon as possible."

As more than 100 protesters remained at the airport and an online chatroom was abuzz with calls for another day of rally, the Chinese government's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office issued a strongly worded statement condemning the airport protests.

"Radical violence in Hong Kong has completely broken through the bottom line of law, morality and humanity," office spokesman Xu Luying said in the statement.

The protesters who violently attacked the two mainland residents on Tuesday "must be severely punished according to law," Xu added, reiterating Beijing's support for the Hong Kong police force.

China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong also issued a statement expressing "grave anger and strong condemnation" against "rioters' acts" against the two mainland Chinese.

"Rioters' besieging, searching, confining and attacking a Global Times reporter and a Shenzhen resident who was transferring through Hong Kong airport were...violent acts that overstepped the bottom line of a civilized society and are no different to the acts of terrorists," it said.

The Hong Kong government likewise condemned the protesters for paralyzing airport operation, and assaulting a traveler and a reporter.

The police said five people were arrested in connection with the clash between protesters and police, and that two police officers were injured and sent to hospital.

Millions of people have taken to the streets or staged rallies since June in protest against the controversial bill, which would allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no extradition arrangements, including mainland China.

Facing widespread popular opposition, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended the bill's legislative process in June and later declared it "dead" in a bid to quell public anger.

However, the protests have continued to draw large crowds calling for the bill's full withdrawal and an independent probe of alleged police brutality against protesters.