Hong Kong Protesters Say LegCo Break-in Was Police Setup, Share Video of Officer Appearing to Announce Violence 4 Hours Before It Happened

Pro-democracy internet users in Hong Kong are circulating a video they claim proves that Monday's violent protests were allowed—and perhaps even encouraged—by the city's police force in order to undermine the credibility of demonstrators.

The video features a police department spokesperson detailing the disorder, as hundreds of people overran the Legislative Council, or LegCo, building in the city center on Monday.

The video was released just before 9:30 p.m local time. The featured officer announced that protesters broke into the LegCo building at 9 p.m., but his watch is set to around 5:05 p.m. This, Reddit users on the Hong Kong subreddit claimed, showed that police had already decided to let protesters storm the building.

Activists had been at the building facade and breaking through the glass for several hours, but began to flood through around 9 p.m.

Pro-democracy leaders have even suggested that police-directed agent provocateurs may have been active among the protesters, perhaps even leading the attack on the LegCo building.

【警務處簡報 · 非法進入立法會】

【警務處簡報 · 非法進入立法會】立法會大樓被暴徒以暴力衝擊並強行非法進入,警方予以最嚴厲譴責。警方將於短時間內到立法會大樓一帶清場,如遇阻礙或反抗,警方將採取適當武力。警方亦呼籲無關的示威者應儘快離開立法會大樓一帶。

Posted by 香港警察 Hong Kong Police on Monday, July 1, 2019

In a statement sent to Newsweek, Hong Kong police denied that the video was pre-recorded. The force also said it had posted a dismissal of the rumor on its Facebook page in Chinese.

The action at the LegCo building was one part of Monday's demonstrations, which saw tens of thousands of democracy advocates march to mark the anniversary of Hong Kong's transition from British to Chinese control in 1997.

The marches came amid ongoing tension over proposed legislation that would allow Hong Kong to extradite criminals to China, which critics claim would allow Beijing to persecute political dissidents and undermine the "One country, two systems" agreement that allows Hong Kong residents greater freedoms that citizens on the mainland.

Demonstrators broke into the LegCo building after using metal trolleys, poles and other handheld implements to break through the glass and metal walls, which were dismantled over a number of hours, leaving large holes accessible to activists.

Police were initially stationed on the other side of the glass and appeared to be trying to stop protesters breaking through. They also held up banners warning that they would use force if protesters did not retreat.

At points, police used tear gas, pepper spray and batons to try and stop protesters flooding into the LegCo building. But compared with last month's anti-extradition marches, police seemed hesitant to engage protesters.

Police later left their positions inside the building. By the time protesters broke through at around 9 p.m., they had free rein of the building. Footage from inside showed helmeted and masked activists vandalizing offices, defacing portraits of legislative leaders and spray-painting security cameras.

The activists eventually made their way to the legislative chamber, where they stood in the aisles and on lawmakers' desks cheering. Some waved British and colonial-era Hong Kong flags—a message of defiance against Beijing's rule over the territory. Others spray-painted graffiti on the walls of the chamber and painted over the special administrative region's emblem, sat high on the chamber walls.

Even while events were still unfolding, some activists were growing suspicious of the non-existent police presence. CNN reporter James Griffiths spoke with pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung inside the chamber. Cheung said police could have easily cleared the protesters from the building but allowed them to take control. "This is a complete trap," he said. "I'm sorry that people played into it."

The Hong Kong police later cleared protesters from the building using tear gas and baton charges. The force condemned the "rioters who violently mobbed and forcibly entered the Legislative Council."

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam also condemned the "extremely violent" action, which she said was "heartbreaking and shocking." The Chinese government, meanwhile, said the "serious illegal actions...trample on the rule of law."

This article has been updated to include a response from Hong Kong police.

Hong Kong, protests, LegCo, set up
This picture taken on July 1, 2019 shows a protester spraying graffiti in the main chamber of the government headquarters in Hong Kong on the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty
Hong Kong Protesters Say LegCo Break-in Was Police Setup, Share Video of Officer Appearing to Announce Violence 4 Hours Before It Happened | News