Hong Kong police arrested a 24-year-old man at the city’s airport early on Thursday on suspicion of stabbing an officer during protests against a new national security law imposed by Beijing on the financial hub.
The arrest followed the latest 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 latest diplomatic tensions over the law, China said Britain would bear all consequences for any move to offer Hong Kong citizens a path to settlement in the United Kingdom, and Taiwan advised citizens to avoid unnecessary transits through or visits to Hong Kong, Macau or mainland China.
The police had posted pictures on Twitter of an 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.
Local media, citing unnamed sources, said the suspect was onboard 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 around 10 riot police ran up the bridge to the aircraft.
The suspect held an expired British National Overseas passport, a special status created under British law in 1987 that specifically relates to Hong Kong and provides a route to citizenship, the source told local station Cable TV.
Cathay Pacific did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying posted on Facebook on Wednesday that a bounty of HK$500,000 ($64,513) would be offered to anyone helping catch the fugitive.
Police said on Wednesday they had made around 370 arrests for illegal assembly and other offences, with 10 involving violations of the new security law.
The 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.
China’s parliament adopted the law in response to protests last year triggered by fears that 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 Chinese rule in 1997.
Beijing denies the accusation.
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 on Thursday that they would be appointed on the basis of judicial and professional qualities, rather than politics.
Chinese state media on Thursday praised the passage of the law, saying it would bring “prosperity and stability.”
“We must face up to the fact that the existence of legal loopholes in safeguarding national security has already made Hong Kong society pay a heavy price,” a commentary in People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, read.