Two of Hong Kong’s leading protest organisers were attacked by thugs armed with a baseball bat and metal poles in separate incidents on Thursday, sharply increasing tensions in the Asian financial hub’s worst political crisis in decades.
Jimmy Sham, the leader of the group behind the largest mass protests in Hong Kong, and Max Chung Kin-ping, the organiser of a protest in July against attacks on demonstrators by alleged gangsters, were each set upon as they went about their business in different parts of the city.
“We Hong Kongers have now lost the freedom of living without terror,” Mr Chung said after the attack, revealing to the media thick red welts on his back and side from the beating.
The assaults come two days before Mr Sham’s group, the Civil Human Rights Front, which has arranged three anti-government marches that each drew crowds of more than 1m in recent weeks, was planning to lead a new mass rally on Saturday.
Police on Thursday denied permission for the planned march, which was meant to mark five years since Beijing announced a restrictive framework for future elections of the territory’s leader.
Police also tried to stop the group’s previous march two weeks ago, granting permission only for a rally in a park, but the estimated 1.7m protesters who attended eventually took to the streets in an illegal but peaceful demonstration.
The assaults on the activists represent a significant escalation of political violence in the city.
The Civil Human Rights Front said Mr Sham was attacked in a restaurant by two masked men carrying a baseball bat and a knife. A friend who protected him was sent to hospital. Police have said they are investigating an alleged assault.
Mr Chung, meanwhile, said he was attacked in an outlying neighbourhood of the territory by four men carrying iron poles and umbrellas while he was being interviewed by a reporter. He and the reporter were taken to hospital. Police said an incident fitting Mr Chung’s description of the attack had been reported to them.
Both attacks were carried out by men of non-ethnic Chinese descent.
Mr Chung organised a rally in the outlying Hong Kong region of Yuen Long last month to protest against an attack by men armed with wooden sticks in a commuter railway station on protesters returning from demonstrations and passersby. Police have accused some of the men of having links to Hong Kong’s criminal triad organisations.