Hong Kong police have sealed off Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to prevent people from taking part in a banned rally on the 24th anniversary of the city’s handover.

Close to 100 police officers were deployed to seal off the park at noon on Thursday. Victoria Park’s six football pitches, basketball courts, central lawn, and entrances were closed off to the public.

July 1 Victoria Park
Police sealing off Victoria Park on July 1, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The shutdown – similar to one enacted on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre last month – came after police banned a planned pro-democracy rally. The force cited restrictions on public gatherings during the Covid-19 pandemic.

An appeal board rejected the organisers’ appeal and upheld the police ban on the traditional annual demonstration.

July 1 Victoria Park
Areas of the park sealed off by the police on July 1, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Senior Superintendent of the Operations Wing of the Hong Kong Island Regional Headquarters Liauw Ka-kei said that the force decided to shut the park after some people were still encouraging others online to participate in the banned rally.

The shutdown on Hong Kong SAR Establishment Day was made under the Public Order Ordinance – anyone entering or staying in the park might face a maximum 12 months of imprisonment.

July 1 Victoria Park
Senior Superintendent Liauw Ka-kei. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Liauw denied that the sealing off of the park was disproportional: “I think it is very important for me to stress that the most effective police measure is to prevent things from happening, instead of [dealing] with it after it happened,” said Liauw.

Police had to disperse groups of foreign domestic workers having picnics in the park and youngsters who were playing basketball.

July 1 Victoria Park
Kids in a football class as police sealed off Victoria Park on July 1, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

When asked if the force would apologise to park goers who were affected, Liauw said that he believed that “citizens will understand the decisions made by the Hong Kong police.”

“In order to ensure public order, public safety, as well as balancing the rights of others, we are making the decisions to best protect members of the public.”

July 1 Victoria Park
Groups of foreign domestic workers leaving Victoria Park after police blocked off the area on July 1, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The police also sealed off the park on the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre on June 4 after banning the vigil for the second consecutive year.

Following media reports that the police have deployed some 10,000 officers on July 1, Liauw refused to confirm details, saying that the number of officers deployed was “sensitive information.”

Apart from heavy police presence in areas of Hong Kong Island, including Causeway Bay and Wan Chai, officers also set up road blocks at harbour crossing tunnels to check every bus passing by.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.