Police detain protesters on the street in Hong KongPolice detain protesters on the street in Hong Kong. Several journalists were also reportedly targeted. Photograph: Jérôme Favre/EPA

On what was supposed to have been Hong Kong’s election day, hundreds of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets on Sunday, where they encountered a heavy presence from police, who fired pepper pellets and arrested almost 300 people.

It was one of the largest gatherings of protesters since China’s implementation of a sweeping set of anti-sedition laws that a coalition of United Nations expert groups has said risks breaching multiple international laws and human rights.

In July the Hong Kong government announced it was postponing the legislative council election for one year because of the dangers posed by a new outbreak of the coronavirus in the city. However, the decision was derided by pro-democracy figures and opposition politicians, who accused the government of using the pandemic to delay an election it could potentially lose.

The decision came amid a continuing crackdown on dissent, including mass arrests of pro-democracy figures, police raids on newsrooms and a chilling effect on educators, the media, academics and politicians.

On Sunday, hundreds rallied against the crackdown and the delay of their democratic vote, gathering initially in Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok. Many protesters also called for the release of 12 people arrested by Chinese coastguards while attempting to flee by boat to Taiwan.

In response to the crowds, which included a large media contingent, police fired pepper pellets and raised warning flags. Several journalists reported being targeted by police and detained or ordered home under threat of arrest, even if they had press accreditation. Video shared on social mediashowed plainclothes officers dragging a man along the ground.