Thousands of Hongkongers marched on New Year Day to protest against a series of “political suppression” by the Hong Kong government.

Sammy Ip (centre). Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

“We have many sub-issues today, because the government has been suppressing civil society and attacking various civil rights and even the three branches of powers,” Sammy Ip, spokesperson of the rally organiser Civil Human Rights Front, told the press on Monday.

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A poster criticising government figures such as Chinese President Xi Jinping, Basic Law Committee Chair Li Fei, and Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

“This is a very urgent situation. We are not even fighting for any right anymore; over the last year, we have gone through many defeats and we have very little left.”

Protesters marched from Causeway Bay to Civic Square, a protest zone outside government headquarters in Admiralty. The Front said around 10,000 people attended the rally, while police said around 6,200 took park in the event.

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Veteran pro-democracy activist Koo Sze-yiu holds a funeral lantern and a Hong Kong flag signifying its death. Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

Many held placards criticising the controversial West Kowloon high-speed rail joint checkpoint plan. Under the plan, Hong Kong will effectively surrender its jurisdiction across a quarter of the new Express Rail terminus, where immigration procedures will be performed by mainland law enforcement agents when it opens next year.

new year january 1 democracy protest rally
Banners on different issues, such as labour rights and the joint checkpoint plan. Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

The plan has been heavily criticised for breaching the Basic Law by Hong Kong’s legal professionals, including the Bar Association and top lawyers such as Philip Dykes and Johannes Chan.

Senior Counsels Martin Lee, Margaret Ng and Alan Leong, as well as members of the Progressive Lawyers Group, attended the rally. Demonstrators demanded the rule of law be upheld.

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Members of the Co-location Concern Group, an alliance of around 100 civil society groups against the joint checkpoint plan, at the rally. Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

Protester Ms. Lau told HKFP that her biggest concern was the joint checkpoint plan. “I don’t want the Chinese authorities to be able to enforce its law in Hong Kong,” she said. “The Chinese government cannot be trusted.”

She took her five-year-old son to the rally: “I don’t know if he will have the opportunity to protest again, because Hong Kong is becoming more and more undemocratic.”

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Ms. Lau and her son. Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

Ms. Liu, 71, said that she did not expect the political situation in Hong Kong to deteriorate after the 1997 Handover. “People should keep their promises. I had never dreamed that the Chinese Communist Party would not keep its word,” she said.

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Ms. Liu. Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

“If China takes away Hong Kong’s rule of law, how will Hong Kong be different from mainland China?”

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“The Chinese system lacks credibility; the National People’s Congress decision effectively cedes Hong Kong land.” Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

Others held banners drawing attention to issues such as the controversial house rule changes at the Legislative Council last month and the Wang Chau development plan.

Free Liu Xia
“Free Liu Xia.” Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

Agnes Chow of the pro-democracy Demosisto party told HKFP: “In the coming 2018, when Hong Kong people face more and more political suppression, we hope that Hong Kong people will come together again to show our power, show our hope to fight against the authoritarian regime.”

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Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

Civic Square

Civic Square, officially called the East Wing Forecourt of the Central Government Offices, was reopened last Thursday after being closed to the public following mass protests in 2014.

On Monday, the protesters gathered at the forecourt under a heavy police presence.

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Civic Square. Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

The flag pole area inside the Civic Square was fenced off, preventing protesters from entering it.

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Civic Square. Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

Activist Avery Ng of the League of Social Democrats criticised the government’s arrangement for reopening the Civic Square.

“What we are asking for is the spirit of Civic Square – civic participation, genuine universal suffrage,” he told HKFP. “But now it is not always open to the public, and you need to apply to access it. Even if you can enter it, the two flag poles are heavily guarded and we can’t even get near the centre of the square.”

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Civic Square. Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

“[Chief Executive] Carrie Lam has been staging political shows like this during her first six months of office, rather than working on actual reforms.”

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Civic Square. Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

A few protesters caused a scene when they tried to force their way into the area. One protester said he was injured during the commotion, while a security guard was sent away in an ambulance.

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Photo: PH Yang.

One man was accused of being a counter-protester and attempting to damage protest props. He was later taken away by police.

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Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

The government said in a statement Monday that it “fully respects” Hongkongers’ right to freedom of expression.

It added that it has “strived to establish good governance, develop a diversified economy and focus on improving people’s livelihood… the government will continue to listen to views of various sectors and meet the expectations of the people with concrete policy initiatives.”

In a separate statement, it expressed “regret” that some demonstrators did not “heed the instructions of police officers and security guards at the scene, causing injuries and damage to Government property.”

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Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.