Hong Kong’s civil service minister has warned of “zero tolerance” for government workers who break the law, urging the city’s 180,000 public sector employees to stay away from protests on National Day.
In a staff letter on Wednesday, Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen also revealed a total of 46 civil servants had been suspended after they were arrested or prosecuted over illegal public events as of the end of the month.
Authorities are bracing for potential chaos after calls for radical acts surfaced online, aimed at planned demonstrations on Thursday. Police had doubled their deployment to 6,000 officers to counter any illegal activities.
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Police earlier denied permission for a National Day rally planned by opposition activist group Civil Human Rights Front, citing threats to public safety and Covid-19 social-distancing rules that limit gatherings to four per group.
The front said it would not go ahead with the march, but added that from past experience, some protesters would still take to the streets.
Nip stressed in his letter to civil servants that police had issued the formal objection to the October 1 march.
The internet is full of distorted and false information, inciting people to participate in illegal demonstrations; I believe that colleagues can distinguish right from wrong
Patrick Nip, civil service chief
“Any related activities will be regarded as unauthorised assemblies, and participation in them may be against the law,” Nip stated. “I must stress that the government places utmost importance on the conduct of civil servants and adopts a zero‑tolerance attitude towards civil servants who violated the law. Any such civil servants will not be tolerated.”
He also noted: “While there is a lot of distorted and fake information inciting people to participate in an illegal procession on the internet, I trust that our colleagues are capable of distinguishing right from wrong, law-abiding and up to the standards of conduct specified in the Civil Service Code.”
He also wished civil servants a good rest, urging them to spend time with their families during the National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival holidays, as well as to stay vigilant amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, in a separate statement, the Security Bureau said authorities were aware of online calls for protests in various districts across the city on Thursday.
“Some even advocate the use of violence, including attacking police stations, hurling petrol bombs and illegally blocking roads, blatantly defying the rule of law and seriously jeopardising public peace and social order,” it said.
The bureau asked the public to refrain from taking part in any unauthorised assembly or prohibited group gathering. “Police will not condone any illegal and violent act, and will strictly enforce the law to ensure public peace and safety.”
The bureau also stated that joining an unauthorised assembly was illegal, and offenders faced a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, while those convicted of rioting could be punished by up to 10 years behind bars.
“Inflicting bodily harm on others, possessing or using petrol bombs, arson, etc, are all serious offences which can result in long-term imprisonment,” the bureau warned.