Hong Kong’s security chief has criticised the organisers of a proposed Labour Day march for making “irresponsible” comments that played down the “safety risks” of public rallies. The duo had earlier urged the police not to “exaggerate” the risk of demonstrations being “hijacked.”

Meanwhile, the city’s director of public prosecutions has warned that “words are weapons,” and that those who use their words to incite others to commit an offence will be punished.

Chris Tang
Secretary for Security Chris Tang meets the press on April 24, 2023. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

The planned May 1 march – organised by former chairperson of the defunct pro-democracy Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions Joe Wong and the union coalition’s ex-committee member Denny To – is currently pending police approval.

The unionists revealed in a Saturday Facebook post that the police had interrogated them on where they got their funding and how they would prevent violent groups from “hijacking” the event.

The organisers said they could only verbally urge the participants to observe the law, whereas the government should be well-equipped to ensure a rally of few hundred participants went ahead smoothly. “We sincerely urge the authorities to stop exaggerating the risk for demonstrations to be hijacked,” they added.

Responding to the unionists’ comments, the Secretary for Security Chris Tang told reporters before he left for a visit to Beijing on Monday morning that security risks of public events “certainly exist.”

“Everybody can see that the black riots occurred in 2019 due to these public events being hijacked by some people,” Tang said, referring to the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest.

The security chief also cited how the organiser of a march for women’s rights scheduled for March 5 was cancelled after “some people attempted to hijack” the proposed rally. Tang did not elaborate how the event would have been “hijacked.”

Ming Pao later reported that some online calls for violent groups to attend the women rights rally were made by users active in pro-establishment groups.

“Any person who deliberately trivialises the risk of these events, or goes as far as telling you that… it’s safe for you to come out – these are irresponsible acts,” Tang said.

Labour day protest march rally
The Labour Day march on May 1, 2019. File photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Tang added that while the police “of course” had the ability to ensure safety, the organisers of public rallies should nonetheless “proactively” carry out their duty within their reasonable capability to ensure that events are safe and orderly.

The security minister said organisers would be held legally responsible if they were incapable of performing such a duty or deliberately shirked the responsibility.

Tang did not say when the authorities would let the organisers of the Labour Day march known whether it would be approved, but said the police would definitely notify them within the statutory period – no later than 48 hours ahead of the scheduled public rally.

‘Words are weapons’

Meanwhile, during an RTHK programme on Sunday RTHK, Director of Public Prosecutions Maggie Yang cited the cases of Tong Ying-kit and Ma Chun-man to explain why people would be found guilty of inciting succession under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Maggie Yang
Director of Public Prosecutions Maggie Yang speaks at a RTHK programme on April 23. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

The government lawyer said incitement and conspiracy were Common Law offences used to prevent certain crimes from happening.

“Some offences are so serious that we have to nip them in the bud. In fact, I always tell people that ‘words are weapons’… If what a person says leads other people to commit serious offences, it is impossible for them to be unscathed by the law,” Yang added.

The prosecutor also urged all young people to “clearly recognise the facts” and avoid testing the bottom line of the law.

“If you lose your future for breaching the national security law, it would indeed be a pity. Therefore I hope that everyone would treasure your own lives and cherish your own prospect,” she said.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.