Riot police detain an anti-government protester during a protest at Mong Kok, in Hong Kong, China, May 10, 2020.
Riot police detain an anti-government protester during a protest at Mong Kok, in Hong Kong, China, May 10, 2020.

More than 200 pro-democracy protesters were arrested in Hong Kong Sunday night after staging a sit-in at a shopping mall in the city’s Mong Kok district.

Authorities say about 230 protesters between the ages of 12 and 65 were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly, failure to produce proof of identity and various other violations.

The protest was one of several smaller demonstrations held in multiple shopping malls in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, with participants singing, chanting and holding signs in defiance of authorities after they were denied permission to hold a Mother’s Day march.

Police in riot gear used pepper spray on the demonstrators to break up the protests.

Political tensions have escalated in Hong Kong after Beijing's top representative office in the city said it was not bound by a law that restricts interference by other mainland Chinese agencies.

In recent weeks, Hong Kong’s law enforcement authorities arrested 15 pro-democracy activists, including Martin Lee, 81, a move the U.S. condemned.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Hong Kong was engulfed by several months of massive anti-government protests last year, initially sparked by a controversial extradition bill. The protests evolved into a demand for greater democracy.

Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy under the concept of “one country, two systems,” since Britain handed the territory back to Beijijng in 1997.  But many Hong Kongers fear that autonomy is steadily being eroded by a central government that is increasingly meddling in its affairs.