Hong Kong police have prohibited the annual pro-democracy march on July 1 on the basis of coronavirus social distancing measures and previous unrest, its organiser revealed on Saturday. It is the first time since the protest’s inception in 2003 that it has been banned.

The official Letter of Objection, shared by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), cited a cap on group gatherings to no more than 50 people as well as previous cases of unrest during protests last year. Another letter sent by police on Friday to District Councilor Andy Chui Chi-kin also denied permission for a protest on July 1.

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Photo: May James/HKFP.

The force has repeatedly rejected applications to hold public assemblies, last month breaking a 30-year-long tradition of honouring victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre in a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park. Hundreds flouted the ban nonetheless.

Local authorities have extended the group gathering restriction multiple times whilst loosening restrictions on businesses, despite weeks of only imported infections.

In the letter to CHRF convenor Jimmy Sham, the force wrote that violence during and after similar rallies applied for by the coalition was one of their considerations in objecting to the march.

Jimmy Sham
Jimmy Sham (left). Photo: inmediahk.net via CC 2.0.

“Due to persisting social unrest, Hong Kong police have cautiously assessed the risks and believe that some participants of this public assembly and public procession may depart from the planned rally location and marching route and violently vandalise buildings as listed above,” they wrote.

“They may pose a severe threat to the safety of other participants, citizens, journalists and police officers and you do not have the capacity to control their acts.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has denied any political considerations in enforcing social distancing measures after facing questions over why protests were consistency banned but the annual book fair, theme parks and swimming pools have been allowed to reopen.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung also rejected an appeal by the CHRF, who have said they will appeal the ban.

Additional reporting: Tom Grundy, Rachel Wong.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.