Over two dozen people gathered in Central on Monday in solidarity with protests in mainland China against Covid-19 regulations.

A gathering in Central, Hong Kong on Monday, November 28, 2022, in solidarity with protests against Covid regulations in China. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Most of the demonstrators, who had assembled during evening rush hour, were carrying blank placards – a symbol of the protests that have swept through key cities and university campuses nationwide.

A gathering in Central, Hong Kong on Monday, November 28, 2022, in solidarity with protests against Covid regulations in China. Blank placards are a symbol of the demonstrations. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

After around an hour, police erected a cordon and took down the personal details of those gathered. HKFP has contacted the police for comment.

Protests escalated across China in recent days, after at least 10 were killed when a fire ripped through a locked down building in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi. Frustration with ongoing restrictions boiled over into mass gatherings around the country, police-protester clashes, disobedience of Covid rules, and anti-government chants.

A gathering in Central, Hong Kong on Monday, November 28, 2022, in solidarity with protests against Covid regulations in China. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Demonstrations have been rare in Hong Kong following the onset of the national security law in 2020. There is also a Covid-19 ban on group gatherings exceeding 12 people, whilst unauthorised assemblies can attract jail time.

A gathering in Central, Hong Kong on Monday, November 28, 2022, in solidarity with protests against Covid regulations in China. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

One young man, named Oasis, told HKFP he was concerned about China’s future, adding that protests like these have not been seen since 1989 pro-democracy movement.

A gathering in Central, Hong Kong on Monday, November 28, 2022, in solidarity with protests against Covid regulations in China. Blank placards are a symbol of the demonstrations. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“In mainland China, it is more easy to organise such protests than in Hong Kong. This is sad… I am just doing what I can do,” he said.

He added that he felt stressed about attending on Monday but “could not step back” so would “keep calm and carry on.”

A gathering in Central, Hong Kong on Monday, November 28, 2022, in solidarity with protests against Covid regulations in China. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Some laid white funeral flowers in memory of those killed in the Urumqi blaze as police created cordons around Theatre Lane.

A gathering in Central, Hong Kong on Monday, November 28, 2022, in solidarity with protests against Covid regulations in China. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Shelly, who was holding a blank piece of paper, told HKFP that she came to Central after learning of the protests in Shanghai.

A gathering in Central, Hong Kong on Monday, November 28, 2022, in solidarity with protests against Covid regulations in China. Blank placards are a symbol of the demonstrations. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

She said that everyone would know what her placard represented: “If you put something [on] there, you will be arrested. So many people have blank paper and everyone knows what it means,” she said in reference to protesters in the mainland.

A gathering in Central, Hong Kong on Monday, November 28, 2022, in solidarity with protests against Covid regulations in China. Blank placards are a symbol of the demonstrations. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

James, a worker from China, told HKFP he was not concerned about the police presence: “Strictly speaking, I’m not protesting… We’re happy with the Hong Kong government for now – what we’re not happy with is the Zero Covid policy in mainland China.”

A gathering in Central, Hong Kong on Monday, November 28, 2022, in solidarity with protests against Covid regulations in China. Blank placards are a symbol of the demonstrations. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“This is what people do in Shanghai – my hometown… I could not go home for two years and my parents were locked down for two months.”

A gathering in Central, Hong Kong on Monday, November 28, 2022, in solidarity with protests against Covid regulations in China. Blank placards are a symbol of the demonstrations. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

A woman called Yannis was among those who was told to give her details to the police before being released from the area. She told HKFP that police warned her they may follow up in relation to the alleged unauthorised assembly.

A gathering in Central, Hong Kong on Monday, November 28, 2022, in solidarity with protests against Covid regulations in China. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

In spite some relaxations of pandemic rules, China’s foreign ministry doubled down on its zero-Covid policy on Monday. “We believe that with the leadership of the Communist party of China, and cooperation and support of the Chinese people, our fight against Covid-19 will be successful,” spokesperson Zhao Lijian told the press.

According to Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance, anyone who takes part in an unauthorised assembly may face up to five years in prison. Those violating the Covid-19 group gathering ban face HK$5,000 fines.

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Tom Grundy

Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.