The organiser of a major National Day march in Hong Kong has called on supporters to “use their own ways” to stage protests, as a police ban on the grounds of public health looms over the event.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which was behind some of the massive anti-government demonstrations in the city, called the potential ban “ridiculous”, saying the planned march was only one of many ways for people to show their will to resist.
The front’s intended march on Hong Kong Island is aimed at opposing the Beijing-imposed national security law and the detention in Shenzhen of 12 Hongkongers, mostly linked to protest crimes, who were caught at sea while fleeing to Taiwan last month.
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There were also online calls for demonstrations elsewhere on the Kowloon side to “mourn” National Day, and to mark the first anniversary of a shooting incident in which a young protester was hit in the chest with a live round by police in Tsuen Wan amid citywide unrest last year.
Leaders of the front met police on Thursday to discuss their bid to hold the October 1 march. But they accused the force of a lack of sincerity in handling their application.
“It was like they were not really listening to us, but just wanted to go through the formalities,” said front convenor Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit after a 15-minute session at the force’s headquarters in Wan Chai.
“It appears they are not going to approve our protest.”
He also labelled as unreasonable demands put forward by police during the meeting in which the front was asked to guarantee that march participants would not flout social-distancing rules and that there would be no illegal activities.
“We agree we have the responsibility to appeal to participants not to break the law, but we have no authority to enforce this and stop others doing anything,” Sham said.
A senior police source said the force would very likely ban the October 1 rally, citing social-distancing rules to contain the spread of Covid-19. He also slammed the front for putting people’s health at risk by planning a protest even as the city continued to record fresh infections daily.
Sham added that the front’s position was that if an approval from police could not be obtained, the march would not proceed. But he said: “Taking part in our march is only one of the ways for people to voice their views. Different people will have different considerations and everyone can use their own ways.”
Figo Chan Ho-wun, vice-convenor of the front, added: “From past experience, many people would take the risk and still take to the streets to express their views, even under a police ban ... They would assess the risk and make their own decisions.”
An earlier application by the front for a march on July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, was also rejected by police, citing public health. Its last approved protest was the New Year’s Day march, but that was aborted midway by police after violence erupted.
Sham accused the government of using coronavirus measures as an excuse to stop people from exercising their rights.
“Hong Kong people have been disallowed to go out to express their views for several months. But the government should be partly blamed for the Covid-19 outbreak here because of lax border control,” he added.
But the police source said: “Freedom of assembly does not mean an immunity from all other law restrictions or official approvals. It is the organisers’ duty to tell us how the rally fits social-distancing rules, and how it would not attract crowds gathering before it kicks off.”
The government announced this week an extension of the cap on group gatherings – under which no more than four people can congregate in public spaces – until October 1.
According to police, 107 applications for public events were received in the first half of the year. Of them, 87 were allowed. Between July and August, police received eight applications and none were approved.