A group of protesters clashed with police officers and security guards as they entered Civic Square – the forecourt of the government’s headquarters – on Tuesday.
The scuffle, which involved a man holding a pro-independence banner, broke out near the end of a New Year’s Day protest march organised by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF).
The government said two security guards fell to the ground as a result.
Figo Chan, one of the march’s organisers and a member of the League of Social Democrats (LSD), described the incident as a “stampede” and said he and another party member were hurt.
The government’s Administration Wing had previously told the CHRF that people carrying pro-independence banners would not be allowed entry into Civic Square, a protest hotspot.
The organisers denounced the move as an infringement on their freedom of political expression, saying that it was the first time such a directive had been made. They added that they may consider challenging the decision in court.
Baggio Leung, spokesperson of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Front, had said that independence advocates would not end their march at Civic Square, so as to differentiate themselves from CHRF.
On Tuesday, most independence advocates who joined the march dispersed outside United Centre instead.
Soon afterwards, a protester named Leung Chi-hung, who was brandishing a banner with the words “Two systems only when there are two countries” successfully entered Civic Square despite efforts by security guards and police to block him.
His placard made reference to the One Country, Two Systems arrangement where Hong Kong was guaranteed a high degree of autonomy and a political system separate from that of mainland China.
Leung was aided by other protesters and independence advocates. The government issued a statement “seriously condemning” the incident on Tuesday evening.
“[The march participants] ignored the advice of the security guards and forced their way into the Forecourt, causing confusion and two security guards falling on the ground,” the statement read.
A government spokesperson also expressed “deep regret” that the organiser did not ask the participants to refrain from displaying the pro-independence banners.
The statement also reiterated that the government had zero tolerance for Hong Kong independence.
In response, the CHRF said the government had no legal basis for preventing certain protesters from entering Civic Square on the basis of their political beliefs. The organisers said they opposed Hong Kong independence but “would not become accomplices” in the government’s infringement on human rights.
The Hong Kong National Front said on Tuesday that their storeroom in Tsuen Wan was burgled on New Year’s Eve. They said surveillance cameras showed a man breaking into the room while four other men kept watch.
The group said some flags meant to be used during the march had gone missing. The case is under investigation by the New Territories South Crime Unit.
Separately, convener of the pro-independence group Student Localism Tony Chung said he had been watched by three men who were wearing black face masks, while on his way to the protest march.
When he tried to take pictures of the men, they told him to delete the photos, Chung claimed.
Chung added that he had reported the incident to police and believed that the men were trying to prevent him from joining the march.