Hong Kong police have banned a planned pro-democracy rally on July 1 for a second consecutive year, citing restrictions on public gatherings during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Police issued a letter of objection on Monday to the League of Social Democrats, the Tin Shui Wai Connection and the Save Lantau Alliance. The groups last week sought police approval for a rally and a march on Thursday, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997.
The organisers planned to hold a rally in Victoria Park between 9 am to 3 pm and a march from the Causeway Bay park to the government headquarters in Admiralty, from 3 pm to 7 pm.
Police banned the rally, saying the government has restricted public gatherings to no more than four people in light of the pandemic. The force said the city was still at an “emergency” level, meaning there were serious public health risks.
The organisers said they told police they would ask participants to stay 1.5 metres apart and assign marshals to maintain order. But police said such measures would not help.
“Although police had discussed with you about the arrangement for the rally and march, police reasonably believe that even with additional conditions, it would not serve the purpose of safeguarding public order, public safety and protecting the rights and freedoms of others,” the force’s letter read.
Police also cited Covid restrictions to ban, for the second year, a planned vigil in the park on June 4 to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre in Beijing. The Hong Kong government has eased most Covid-19 restrictions, but not the one governing public gatherings, as the infection rate fell sharply.
July 1 is an especially sensitive date this year since it marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of China’s communist party.
Social distancing measures
The organisers said they did not understand why the government would relax social distancing rules for indoor gatherings, while an outdoor rally and march would be opposed. The groups said that while they were concerned about the spread of Covid-19, peoples’ right to march and freedom of expression were “equally important.”
“The government’s duty is to strike a balance between the two rather than suppressing people’s rights using pandemic restrictions,” the organisers said, adding they would file an appeal later.
The umbrella group which has traditionally organised the July 1 event, the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), announced earlier that its annual rally was cancelled. The coalition, which had organised the July 1 demonstration since 2003, said it was considering disbanding.
The CHRF convenor Figo Chan is currently serving 18 months behind bars for organising and inciting others to take part in an unauthorised assembly on China National Day in 2019. The group’s former leader Jimmy Sham has been detained since late February pending trial under the national security law.
The embattled coalition saw an exodus of member groups in March after media reports that it was under investigation for possible breaches of national security legislation. Police demanded financial records from the CHRF in April, citing an alleged breach of the Societies Ordinance, but it refused to comply.