Police ban marches as Hong Kong readies for 11th weekend of mass anti-government protests

Kimmy Chung

The police have barred a prominent organiser of Hong Kong rallies from holding a march on Sunday, saying the group could not ensure public safety given the escalating violence at recent protests.

This is the first time the Civil Human Rights Front, which leads the annual pro-democracy march on July 1 and drew a turnout of 2 million for a protest June, has had its protest plans banned, according to former leader Jackie Hung Ling-yu.

In a letter to the group, the police cited 18 anti-government demonstrations held since June that ended in violence and injuries. Five of them were held by the front.

“Protesters not only got violent, engaged in arson and large-scale road blockage, but also used petrol bombs, steel balls, bricks, iron bars and other self-made weapons to destroy public property, disturb social peace and cause injuries,” the police letter said.

The front was allowed to go ahead with a rally at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay from 10am to 11pm on Sunday. A turnout of 300,000 is expected.

But its plan for a march from the park to Chater Road in Central was not approved. The police said there was reason to believe that some participants would deviate from the proposed route and “get out of control”.

Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, a leader of the front, said that the group was “extremely discontented” with the police decision and that it intended to appeal the ban.

In objecting to the front’s [plan] for a safe, lawful, peaceful march, the police are disregarding public safety

Jimmy Sham of the Civil Human Rights Front

“In objecting to the front’s [plan] for a safe, lawful, peaceful march, the police are disregarding public safety,” he said, suggesting that things could end up being more chaotic if people march on their own without marshals or a fixed route.

The front is an alliance of more than 40 political and civil groups and until now had satisfied the police with its deployment of marshals at marches.

This will be the 11th straight weekend of protests triggered by the government’s now-abandoned extradition bill, which would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions including mainland China.

With police and protesters embroiled in escalating violence in recent weeks, the police have banned protests for the fourth consecutive weekend, citing public safety.

A police spokesman on Thursday said telecoms companies had agreed to send text messages to notify phone users of any disruptions to public order at future events.

Apart from the front’s march, police also banned a proposed march in Hung Hom planned for Saturday.

Jimmy Sham of the Civil Human Rights Front outside police headquarters in Wan Chai on July 21. Photo: Dickson Lee

Ahead of news of the police ban on Sunday’s march, a group of masked protesters came forward to say they had “learned the lessons” and would avoid chaos in Sunday’s rally. Referring to attacks on two mainlanders by protesters at Hong Kong International Airport on Tuesday, they promised not to act against their fundamental beliefs in human rights and liberty.

In Macau, police banned a peaceful rally planned for next Monday at Senado Square, which is a touristic spot that attracts thousands of mainland Chinese.

One of the organisers, who only gave her surname Kuok, said they were ordinary Macau residents – with no political affiliations – who would like to show support for Hongkongers and condemn police’s use of force.

She said the peaceful rally was also aimed at raising awareness for the current political situation and the need to protect the identity of the former Portuguese enclave.

“We are very sad and angry because the Basic Law [Macau’s mini-constitution] gave us freedom of speech. But it turns out that a Macau person no longer has this basic right,” Kuok said.

“The situation in Macau is getting worse and we feel that the Chinese government wants Macau to be like just another city in mainland China.”

Kuok also said organisers had faced multiple threats in the past few days. “Some people who are connected to Chinese-backed associations have threatened us. They said that, if we held the event, a group of people would come after us and beat us up. Just like it happened in Yuen Long,” Kuok said, recalling the July 21 incident that left more than 40 people injured in Hong Kong.

The organiser said the rally would be cancelled since police had banned it, but they were planning to build a “Lennon Wall” in Macau. Walls in public spaces adorned with stickers and Post-it notes of encouragement for protesters are now a common sight across Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, a Friday night rally in Chater Garden in Central, jointly organised by the Hong Kong Federation of Students and a group that is active online called “Stand With Hong Kong”, was given the green light.

Brian Leung, the anti-extradition bill protester who unmasked himself and appealed to protesters to stay and occupy the Legislative Council on July 1 after hundreds broke into the building, is expected to deliver a pre-recorded speech at the rally in Central. Leung has left Hong Kong.

Protesters march from Causeway Bay to the central government offices in Tamar on June 16. Photo: Robert Ng

There will also be a video speech by Ray Wong Toi-yeung, a localist who obtained refuge in Germany after being charged with rioting in Mong Kok in 2016.

Rally organisers said their two main aims were to appeal to the United Kingdom to declare that China had violated the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed ahead of Hong Kong’s handover in 1997, and to ask the US Congress to fast-track the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

Ahead of the weekend’s protests, there were renewed calls on the internet for Hongkongers to withdraw their money from banks on Friday in an attempt to crash the city’s financial system.

Major banks, including HSBC, Hang Seng, Citi and Standard Chartered, said on Thursday that there had been no unusual activity at their ATMs or banks.

A source at one major bank, however, said his office was stocking up on US currency notes as a contingency plan. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority said nothing unusual had been reported.

Additional reporting by Eugene Tang

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