Hong Kong police shut down part of Victoria Park on Friday to stop people from gathering for a banned candlelight vigil commemorating the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, while also setting up roadblocks at major thoroughfares to check vehicles and mobilising a water cannon.
At around 5pm, a police water cannon truck and two armoured vehicles were seen near Olympic railway station in West Kowloon, heading towards the Western Harbour Tunnel and onwards to Hong Kong Island. The police vehicles were commonly deployed during the anti-government protests in 2019 but had not been seen on June 4 in the past.
The Post was told the water cannon was moved from the Police Tactical Unit headquarters in Fanling to the force’s training college in Wong Chuk Hang and put on standby.
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An hour earlier, at about 4pm, police officers stopped traffic near the entrance and exit of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, as well as the Eastern and Western harbour crossings for about 10 minutes to set up roadblocks. A police source later said they were put up to carry out stop-and-search checks.
Around 2pm, officers surrounded the football pitches, central lawn and other areas of Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to prevent public access.
Senior Superintendent Liauw Ka-kei said that starting from 2pm much of the park was off-limits and anyone who tried to get into those areas by breaking through police lines would be in violation of the law. He did not set a definite time for lifting the cordons.
The closure had nothing to do with the national security law, Liauw insisted, saying the shutdown was implemented under the Public Order Ordinance.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Security Bureau also warned residents not to enter Victoria Park or take part in any unauthorised assembly.
“The public should not defy the law. If anyone attempts to challenge the law, including [social-distancing regulations], the Public Order Ordinance and the Hong Kong national security law, police will take resolute enforcement action according to the law in a serious manner,” he added.
The closed areas are the six football pitches, central lawn and the path between them, together with the basketball courts, jogging track and the walkways alongside the pitches.
“Anyone will be in breach of the law if he or she tries to enter the closed zones with force. Police can adopt appropriate measures, or even force, to stop them,” Liauw told a press briefing.
“We need to ensure the risk of [people] breaking the law is at a minimum [before we can] lift the barricade.”
Liauw said police had the “responsibility to take active measures” because people were continuing to advocate gathering at the park on Friday night, even after the June 4 vigil was banned in a decision later upheld by the appeal board.
He warned that anyone taking part in an unauthorised assembly faced a maximum sentence of five years in jail. The restricted zone would be reopened when circumstances allowed it, he added.
A broadcasting system would remind people “the park was closed to prevent a public meeting from taking place”, warning that anyone forcing themselves onto the site could be arrested. Signs were also erected in both Chinese and English.
Asked if police would take action on gatherings in other parts of the city, Liauw said officers had “no other option but to enforce the law” if such gatherings were unlawful.
Friday’s police action marked the first time the force had invoked the Public Order Ordinance to shut down the venue, according to a source.
All entrances and footbridges were barricaded with metal fences from 2pm. Throughout the afternoon dozens of police officers stationed at each entrance told passers-by that they could not walk through the park.
Some 7,000 officers have also been deployed across the city to deal with any eventuality and guard high-risk areas such as Beijing’s liaison office in Sai Ying Pun.
The security measures were in response to online appeals for people to turn up at the park to observe the annual candlelight vigil despite police banning it for the second year in a row on public health grounds.
Another source said the deployment was also considered as preparation for the force to deal with any trouble at major events later this year such as the anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule, the Legislative Council elections and National Day.
Victoria Park is about 200 metres from the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government.
The office began its operations in Hong Kong at the Metropark Hotel on July 8 last year, eight days after the national security law was imposed on the city on June 30.
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