Some 10,000 police officers will be stationed across Hong Kong on Thursday as the city marks 24 years since its handover to China. The planned July 1 march remains prohibited after an appeal board upheld the police ban citing Covid-19 risks.
Sources told local media on Tuesday that police will deploy over 10,000 officers to patrol on the streets on Thursday, while the Counter Terrorism Response Unit will be on standby. The force may also seal off parts of Victoria Park as they did on June 4, after an annual candlelight vigil to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre was banned, media reports said.
On Tuesday evening, the Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions dismissed a challenge from the League of Social Democrats, the Tin Shui Wai Connection and the Save Lantau Alliance. The three groups had appealed against a police objection to their application to hold a “resist political suppression” rally and march on the handover anniversary.
According to local media, Eddie Tse of the Save Lantau Alliance said in the appeal board meeting that the annual democracy march on July 1 had been peaceful and orderly. He said the organisers would ask participants to remain in groups of four and keep a social distance of 1.5 metres in light of the latest Covid-19 public gathering restrictions.
Chief Inspector Lam Yan-yi of the Hong Kong Island Regional Headquarters, on the other hand, quoted Dr Chen Hong of the Infection Control Branch of the city’s Centre for Health Protection, who said the local pandemic situation was still “severe.” Lam cited Chen as saying the recent discovery of Covid-19 mutant strain meant any group gathering may aggravate the spread of Covid-19 in Hong Kong.
Lam said the organisers did not propose an arrangement for taking the body temperature of participants. She also questioned how the organisers could appeal to participants to use the government-developed LeaveHomeSafe app for contact tracing, local media reported.
In rejecting the appeal, the panel said while it supported the organisers in exercising their rights, a hours-long march was a “high-risk activity” under the coronavirus pandemic, media reports stated.
Tse said the three groups were “extremely disappointed” at the appeal dismissal. He appealed to Hongkongers to wear a black shirt on Thursday to show their “discontent.”
“During the discussion, we felt that police were being alarmist and continued to use the pandemic as a reason for obstructing the rally and march,” he said.
Police welcomed the appeal board’s decision and urged members of the public not to take part in any unauthorised assembly or prohibited group gathering. The force also told people not to publicise the banned public processions.
“Police adopt a zero tolerance approach to any illegal act and take resolute enforcement actions,” said Superintendent Cheung Chi-wai of the Hong Kong Island Regional Headquarters.
July 1 is an especially sensitive date this year since it marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of China’s communist party.
Street booth plans
Mung Siu-tat, chief executive of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), told HKFP on Tuesday that his organisation will organise three to four street booths in Mong Kok, Causeway Bay and Wan Chai on Thursday.
In light of the Covid-19 social gathering restrictions, each street booth would have no more than four people, Mung said.
He said the HKCTU did not have any hope that the appeal board would overthrow the police decision to ban the planned rally and march on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China.
“The appeal board usually just cooperate with the government’s political decision, so we won’t place any hope on [the meeting],” he said.
Police had arrested two activists from Student Politicism on June 11, ahead of a planned street booth to mark two years since police and pro-democracy protesters clashed violently outside the government headquarters on June 12. The pair were accused of inciting others to participate in an unlawful assembly and publicising and publishing an unauthorised assembly.
Asked whether the HKCTU feared arrest as the police ban was upheld, Mung said a street booth was not the same as a rally or a march. He said the group would not promote a demonstration, but it had to ensure Hongkongers were “not silenced” on an important day.
“A street booth is a street booth. If the police have to distort the facts, it only shows the unfairness in their law enforcement. For us, there is no more place to draw back,” he said.