Nearly 300 people have been arrested in Hong Kong after protesters took to the streets on Sunday after weeks of relative calm since the implementation of a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing.

The crowds defied social-distancing restrictions to protest against the new law as well as the government’s decision to postpone Legislative Council elections, originally scheduled for Sunday, for a year.

Police fired pepper balls at demonstrators marching through a main shopping district as some threw water bottles and umbrellas towards officers.

According to the police, most of the more than 280 arrests were made on suspicion of illegal assembly, with at least one for breaching the new law by chanting “pro-Hong Kong independence” slogans.

Leading pro-democracy activists Figo Chan, Raphael Wong and Leung Kwok-hung from the League of Social Democrats were among those arrested, according to the group’s Facebook post. The three had waved banners criticising the election postponement as politically motivated and condemned the government for disqualifying a number of pro-democracy candidates in July, including prominent activist Joshua Wong.

Earlier in the day, Tam Tak-chi, a leading member of the pro-democracy party People’s Power, was detained for “uttering seditious words”. The police accused him of “creating hatred towards government” and “provoking disaffection between people” on social media and making speeches at street booths.

The territory’s pro-democracy parties had hoped to perform strongly in the postponed elections after Beijing imposed the national security law.

The authorities cited public health concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for delaying the polls. 

The government on Sunday condemned the protesters, saying the “illegal assemblies” would “greatly increase the risk of virus transmission in the community and pose serious threats to other people’s health”.

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Via Financial Times