Hong Kong police have banned a major anti-government march planned for National Day, citing Covid-19 rules and the threat to public order.
The Civil Human Rights Front organised the event for October 1 to voice opposition to the Beijing-imposed national security law and show concern over the detention of 12 Hong Kong fugitives captured while trying to flee to Taiwan and who are being held over the border in Shenzhen.
In rejecting the bid on Friday, Senior Superintendent Ng Lok-chun said social-distancing regulations that limited public gatherings to four people could not be disregarded.
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“It would be illegal to stage or take part in the public rally, and public order will be destroyed,” he wrote in a letter of objection seen by the Post.
Previous rallies organised by the front had turned violent and public facilities were damaged, Ng noted. The force was concerned over a repeat of such incidents and warned anyone who organised or took part in an unlawful assembly could be jailed for five years.
The letter was sent to the front’s deputy convenor Figo Chan Ho-wun, who said the organisation would appeal the decision. Police were simply trying to stop Hongkongers from venting their anger against the government, he argued.
“In the past eight months, people’s discontent about the government’s handling of the pandemic has been consistently suppressed,” Chan told a radio programme. “If the city’s legislature cut police officers’ pay, I wonder if they would take to the streets too.”
Chan did not reveal whether the front would proceed with the march if the appeal was rejected, and his group has said the demonstration was just one of many ways for people to show their determination to resist.
In his letter, the senior superintendent said the front would be unable to control outbreaks of violence, which would pose a threat to people’s safety.
“Participants, residents, reporters and police officers were injured in [previous] clashes or violent incidents,” Ng said. “Some protesters did not only engage in violence, arson and large-scale road blocks, some even used petrol bombs, ball bearings, bricks, spears, iron rods and other home-made weapons to destroy public properties.”
Allowing the demonstration to go ahead would risk damage to MTR stations in Causeway Bay and Central, as well as the Wan Chai police headquarters and the High Court building in Admiralty, the senior officer argued.
“The location of your planned march is very close to some high-risk buildings,” he said. “As the social atmosphere remains unstable, after cautious assessment, we have reason to believe that some participants of this public march could deviate from the planned route and violently destroy these buildings.”
But Chan dismissed the objections. “Police headquarters is surrounded by water barricades too. How can those buildings be in danger?” he said. “MTR stations were called high-risk buildings, but they are used by many people every day. How is that different from people marching with their face masks on?”
The government announced this week Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings would be extended to October 1.
According to police, 107 applications for public events were received in the first half of this year., of which 87 were allowed. Between July and August, police received eight applications and none were approved.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Will there be a Hong Kong protest march on October 1? Organiser urges people to ‘use your own ways’ as police ban looms
- National security law: Hong Kong civil servants worried over planned loyalty pledge, with union asking bureau to define ‘red line’