Hong Kong police have doubled to 6,000 the number of officers they will deploy to handle any chaos that erupts on National Day after witnessing an increase in online messages calling for attacks on its members and other forms of violence on the public holiday, the Post has learned.
The threat to public order has been updated to “relatively high” from “moderate”, but police are still gathering intelligence and additional manpower will be mobilised if needed, according to an insider.
March organiser Civil Human Rights Front lost its appeal against a police ban on the procession and called on residents to wear black to show solidarity on Thursday. The Security Bureau defended the police’s decision, saying the right to assembly was not absolute.
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The arranged manpower would be the biggest police deployment in the past six months, the insider said. The decision to allocate more officers was made during a high-level police meeting chaired by deputy chief Siu Chak-yee on Monday afternoon.
The Post understands police increased the number of assigned officers from 3,000 after reviewing risk assessments and noting an increasing number of messages posted online that advocated assaulting members of the force and other violence. The previous large-scale police deployment was on July 1, when about 5,000 riot officers were monitoring a protest that coincided with the anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China in 1997.
Protesters might target the flag-raising ceremony at Golden Bauhinia Square outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, which will be attended by government officials and other dignitaries.
Civil Human Rights Front applied for police permission to hold the protest march but it was rejected due to the threat to public safety and Covid-19 social-distancing rules that limit public gatherings to four people.
Hong Kong people will not be scared away and we shall keep on with our fight
Jimmy Sham, convenor Civil Human Rights Front
After losing the appeal, front convenor Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit said the organisation could not proceed with the march, but urged the public to wear black on October 1 or a badge with a protest slogan to show support for demonstrators arrested over the past year, as well as 12 Hong Kong fugitives wanted for protest-related crimes being held in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.
“Hong Kong people will not be scared away, and we shall keep on with our fight,” Sham said.
He accused the government of using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to suppress people’s right to express their political views.
“The government says civil servants should go back to office to work. MTR trains are now packed as before,” he said. “But authorities say we cannot hold a march because it will attract people and could increase the risk of infection. Isn’t it absurd?”
He claimed that during the appeal hearing, police suggested the front register the names of the participants so that they could track them in case there was a coronavirus outbreak.
The Security Bureau warned in a statement that “anyone advertising or publicising the procession, or taking part in it, may violate the law”.
“The Security Bureau is aware that some people on the internet claim that they will continue to take part in the procession regardless of whether it is authorised or not, and advocate the use of violence, including hurling petrol bombs and illegally blocking roads, in making their demands” it said. “Such acts seriously breach public peace and the offences are punishable by long-term imprisonment.”
The bureau reiterated that under the Hong Kong Bill of Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, freedoms of procession and assembly were not absolute. They might be subject to restrictions as prescribed by law in the interests of public order and safety, as well as the well-being of others.
“Court rulings have also pointed out that once a protest involves the use or the threat of using violence, the protest would have gone beyond the constitutionally guaranteed bounds of peaceful demonstration,” it said.
A second police source said he believed protesters were likely to ignore the ban and march from Victoria Park to Admiralty in the afternoon. The force is also prepared for possible chaos in Mong Kok, where anti-government protesters are believed to be planning a rally in the evening, according to the insider.
The source said organisers behind unlawful activities would usually announce the time and location of the gatherings on the internet about an hour beforehand. But the insider stressed “there will be a lot of uniformed and plain-clothes officers around the streets on that day”.
Police would continue their strategy of quick and early intervention to deter protesters from gathering in large numbers.
Roadblocks will be set up across the city to stop people from delivering weapons and supplies to frontline protesters and to help conduct ID checks, the Post understands.
A police spokesman said officers would take swift action and arrest lawbreakers on site, adding members of the public should not take part in any illegal activities and stay away from high-risk areas.
When asked whether members of the force’s new national security unit would be on the ground, a high-ranking officer said he believed they had their own targets under their surveillance.
But he warned that anyone chanting slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times” or “Hong Kong independence”, or displaying banners carrying similar messages, would face arrest under the national security law.
Officers who enforce the sweeping new law, which targets secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities and collusion with foreign forces, would take over any investigations. The courts have yet to decide whether chanting such slogans is unlawful.
Police similarly banned a request to stage a rally by the Civil Human Rights Front last year. Clashes broke out in more than a dozen locations in what police called “one of Hong Kong’s most violent and chaotic days”.
In one shocking scene, an officer shot a radical activist in the chest who swung at him with a rod as the officer tried to rescue a fallen colleague who was under attack. The activist, who was 18 at the time, was sent to hospital in stable condition. By day’s end, dozens of officers and protesters were left with injuries, and more than 180 people were arrested.
In a post on the Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team on Telegram, one user suggested people wear funeral attire on October 1 when going out.
Another post said the date had become a “high risk” event due to the police ban and asked people to take care of themselves and avoid getting arrested. It did not specify what participants should do on Thursday but asked them to prepare exit routes in case.
Police have arrested 28 people under the Beijing-enacted law since it took effect on June 30, with the most high-profile suspect being Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, who is accused of colluding with foreign forces.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong protests: police ban anti-government march planned for National Day by Civil Human Rights Front
- Will there be a Hong Kong protest march on October 1? Organiser urges people to ‘use your own ways’ as police ban looms