HONG KONG (AP) —

Hong Kong’s Law Society and Bar Association on Thursday condemned abusive graffiti sprayed by protesters on a court building that insulted a judge by name.

The groups called that “an affront to the rule of law and judicial integrity” in the former British colony, which has retained its unique judicial system free from the corruption and political interference so common on mainland China.

The incident came Wednesday during a New Year’s Day anti-government march that swiftly devolved into running battles between police and hard-core demonstrators.

“The graffiti are outrageous and firmly condemned,”the joint letter stated. “Abusive comments implying that judicial decisions were made or influenced by political considerations are wholly unjustified.”

Along with many civic and business groups, the Law Society and Bar Association had been critical of proposed extradition legislation that set off the original protests in June. They have been less outspoken about the increasingly violent protests except when the city’s independent judiciary has been attacked.

Many protesters are driven concerns that China is gradually tightening its control over Hong Kong’s institutions, from major businesses, to law enforcement and the media.

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The attack on the court building was also condemned by police spokesman Kwok Ka-chuen at a briefing Thursday.

“In one of the most alarming cases, rioters spray-painted offensive words on the outer wall of the High Court to insult a judge,” Kwok told reporters. “This kind of attack will make a dent in the spirit of the law and threaten the independence of the judiciary.”

Kwok said police had arrested 420 people during the New Year holiday, bring the total arrested during the protests to around 7,000.

He said charges included illegal assembly, possession of offensive weapons and disorderly conduct in a public place. “Protester violence has reached a really critical level,” Kwok said. “For more than seven months, Hong Kong people have been living under the shadow of violent protests which have extended to almost every neighborhood of the city.”