The Hong Kong government has kicked a pro-democracy party out of Causeway Bay’s Lunar New Year fair after political slogans and material were found at their stalls.
Last year, the government announced a ban on dry goods at Lunar New Year fairs citing public safety concerns. It meant that stalls would only be able to sell flowers and food, and the usual political satire items would be banned.
The League of Social Democrats (LSD) had been operating two stalls – at pitch number four and 37 – in Victoria Park in order to sell flowers.
But the party decorated their stand with political banners featuring slogans such as “anti-mass arrest” and “independent investigation” in reference to Hong Kong protesters’ demands. They also had a table for a petition against pay rises for the police.
Inside the stalls, they displayed photos of the ongoing demonstrations as well as political cartoons. There was also a “Lennon Wall” message board for visitors to share pro-democracy sticky notes.
The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) pasted notices at the stalls on Sunday night stating that officers from the department found items unrelated to the selling of flowers, and thus there was a violation of the stall rental agreement.
“Under the premise of protecting public interests, we now… issue a warning to you,” the notices said.
The department warned that the stalls could be terminated if the party refused to remove objects unrelated to the selling of flowers before 1am on Monday.
At a press conference on Monday morning, LSD Chair Avery Ng said the party had reached out to the FEHD to explain the items and discuss solutions, but officers did not show up.
“The government should not waste time on suppressing our stalls. [Chief Executive] Carrie Lam banned us from buying dry goods and toys, in order to make Victoria Park unattractive for visitors. Ours were the stalls most visited by residents – banning us would be very shameless,” Ng said.
Photos from United Social Press on Sunday appeared to show a sparsely-attended New Year’s fair, whereas – in previous years – the park had been packed with festive shoppers.
After the government banned the sale of dry goods — many promoting political messages — at Victoria Park’s Lunar New Year Eve market, the market appears to have attracted very few attendees.
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) January 19, 2020
Meanwhile, a stall run by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China sold a goddess of democracy statue combined with a flower.
The stall had a donation box and promotional banners.
Another stall operated by the Justice Defence Fund sold flowers and also displayed portraits of nine Umbrella Movement activists charged by the government. Neither of the stalls received any notices to remove the items.
At around 1pm on Monday, officers from the FEHD returned to the LSD’s stalls and said the party had failed to remove the relevant items, and the stalls were therefore terminated.
A hygiene inspection officer surnamed Chan told the party that the stalls would have to cleared by 3pm on Monday.
One of those running the stall asked Chan if the move amounted to “political suppression,” but Chan did not give a direct answer.
The woman helping to run the stall said it had been a tradition for political parties to decorate their stands with political items: “We have been doing this for years – we had a reasonable belief that doing so would be fine.”