Hong Kong police are investigating several posters calling for protests at the city’s largest Lunar New Year fair, RTHK reported.
On Wednesday, agents from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department spotted posters saying “Take back Lunar New Year fair this Friday 11pm” at the fair in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, according to the report. The organisers are unknown.
Police said they “attach high importance” to the incident and are collecting intelligence to find out which groups are involved. They will implement crowd control measures at the fair to ensure public order, according to RTHK.
The force also plans to deploy around 1,500 officers and strengthen patrols on Hong Kong Island and western Kowloon between Friday and next Tuesday, in light of last year’s Mong Kok unrest involving localist protesters.
The Beijing-backed newspaper Wen Wei Po ran a story on Thursday accusing “rioters” of conspiring to “repeat the Mong Kok riots.” It quoted an eyewitness as saying that a woman wearing a surgical mask put up the posters.
The paper likely assumed the posters were associated with localist groups because they used the slogan “Take back Sheung Shui” in previous protests against parallel traders in the district.
Police are looking for the woman and have stepped up security measures, the paper said.
The news was widely circulated among pro-Beijing and pro-government groups on social media. The pro-Beijing group Silent Majority said: “Hong Kong independence advocates just don’t get how wrong they are.”
A pro-police Facebook page “Salute to Hong Kong Police” wrote: “Hope there will not be any bloody incidents this year and our colleagues can enjoy the festival peacefully.”
The Victoria Park’s fair has come under the spotlight recently after the government notified the Youngspiration party and the Hong Kong National Party of its decision to terminate their franchise agreements for operating stalls at the fair just days before the festive market began last Sunday.
The authorities said it “believes” the merchandise sold by the groups would contain pro-independence messages, which would “very likely endanger public order and safety” given society’s polarised views on Hong Kong independence.
On Monday, Youngspiration posted pictures of their merchandise on social media to show that their goods did not contain political messages, as the government speculated.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong National Party set up an online store to distribute merchandise containing pro-independence messages.
The Progressive Lawyers Group criticised the government for its “unwise” decision to bar the two groups from operating stalls at the fair without solid evidence to prove that the goods will likely endanger public order and safety.
It urged the authorities to be fair when exercising public power and protect the constitutional rights to freedom of association, free speech and free movement of goods.
A total of 15 Lunar New Year fairs – including the one in Victoria Park – are being held across Hong Kong between January 22 and 28.