Hong Kong police have arrested about 30 pro-democracy protesters Wednesday, a day before Chinese President Xi Jinping is to make his first state visit to the city to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the territory's transfer from Britain to China.
The protesters huddled around the "Forever Blooming Golden Bauhinia" statue, a gift from China placed at the site of the 1997 handover ceremony.
They demanded open democracy and the release of Nobel Prize-winning activist Liu Xiaobo.
"Democracy now. Free Liu Xiaobo," protesters shouted while draping a black banner that read "We do not want Xi Jinping. We want Liu Xiaobo" over top of the golden bauhinia statue.
According to the police, the protesters were arrested for causing a public nuisance.
Liu, a 61-year-old writer who was recently diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, was arrested on charges of "subversion" in 2009 for circulating a petition urging democratic reforms.
The demonstrators included Joshua Wong, 20, who helped lead the 2014 "Umbrella Movement" protests. As Wong was carried away from the statue and into a police van, he continued shouting.
"We want to tell Xi Jinping that Hong Kong's prosperity is just a facade. When Democracy is not in sight, we need to take action to confront this system," Wong hollered. "Hong Kong people, do not give up. Protest on July 1!"
'One country, two systems'
Xi is to arrive Thursday in Hong Kong to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the city's handover on July 1, 1997. A heavy police presence is expected for his visit. While Xi is in the city, tens of thousands are expected to participate in a pro-democracy demonstration.
After 156 years of British rule, Hong Kong was handed over to China with an understanding the former colony would be allowed certain freedoms not guaranteed in mainland China, like freedom of speech and an independent judiciary. According to some, this "one country, two systems" policy has been gradually eroded under Communist rule.
"The joint declaration has been breached [by China], I have no doubt," the last British governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten recently told The Guardian. He pointed to the alleged abductions of Hong Kong residents who wrote books critical of Chinese political leaders.
The arrests came the same day the Chinese legislature approved a law to grant sweeping new surveillance powers to the government. Although the state news agency Xinhua said that the law is "needed to ensure the nation's security interests are met," Chinese activists fear the new powers will enable broader suppression of dissent.