Members of a Hong Kong pro-democracy party said police warned them not to attend a women’s rights march before it was abruptly cancelled a night ahead of when it was scheduled to take place.

league of social democrats figo chan chan po ying tsang kin-shing
League of Social Democrats members (from left) Chan Po-ying and Tsang Kin-shing at Eastern Law Courts Building on November 22, 2022. File photo: Kyle Lam.

The League of Social Democrats (LSD) said police told four members of the group on Friday that they would be arrested if they joined the march, meant to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day.

The police-approved public event, organised for Sunday by the Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association, was called off on Saturday. The group did not explain the decision behind the last-minute cancellation.

“The LSD is extremely angry that the national security police threatened… [us] on our participation in a legal march,” the LSD – one of the few pro-democracy groups still active in the city – wrote in a statement published on Sunday afternoon.

Addressing reporters, police said it had been notified by organisers of its decision to drop plans for the march after considering “the interest of all parties.”

Acting Senior Superintendent Cheng Wai-kin meeting the press on March 4, 2023.
Acting Senior Superintendent Cheng Wai-kin meeting the press on March 4, 2023. Photo: Hong Kong Police, via Facebook.

“Although the police hope that no one will violate the law, we still found that a lot of people, including some violent groups, said that they would attend the event,” said Cheng Wai-kin, acting senior superintendent of the police.

HKFP has reached out to the police for comment.

The Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association had originally planned for demonstrators to march from Wan Chai to the government headquarters in Admiralty to urge greater protection for labour rights, women’s rights and gender equality.

The association had been part of the Civil Human Rights Front, which had organised some of the largest pro-democracy demonstrations and rallies in Hong Kong’s history. But the women’s rights group left the coalition before it disbanded in August 2021, citing “unprecedented challenges.”

Heavy police presence

The cancelled march would have been one of the first political rallies in the city since the Covid-19 outbreak over three years ago, during which police cited health concerns as reasons for banning demonstrations such as the city’s annual Tiananmen vigils in 2020 and 2021.

women's rights march cancelled
Heavy police presence was spotted in Wan Chai on March 6, 2023 after a women’s rights march was cancelled. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Despite being called off, dozens of police officers were seen near Southorn Playground in Wan Chai on stand by on Sunday morning, where the march would have begun. Officers conducted a number of stop and searches.

There was no visible turnout to the protest. One man, however, showed up with a placard reading “femicide is your responsibility too.”

He referred to the recent murder of Abby Choi, adding that misogyny was akin to tacit consent for gender-based violence.

Police officers were also seen on Lion Rock in Sha Tin on Sunday. HKFP has asked police what operation they were conducting atop the mountain.

According to the conditions set out by the police, the Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association would have had to ensure that the protest and rally “would not be contrary to the interests of national security.”

The Beijing-imposed national security law was enacted in June 2020. The sweeping legislation criminalises subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.

The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.