Dozens of people joined the first Sunday Hong Kong Authorized Protest since the lifting of major COVID-19 restrictions under unprecedented strict rules, including wearing a numbered badge around the neck.
The rules set by the police, citing security reasons, came as the financial center was promoting its return to normalcy after years of virus checks and political turmoil.
During the pandemic, protests were rare due to COVID-19 restrictions. Besides, many activists have been silenced or imprisoned after Beijing imposed a national security law following mass protests in 2019. The city’s freedom of assembly that Hong Kong was promised when it returned to China from Britain in 1997 has eroded.
Sunday’s demonstration against the proposed recovery and construction of garbage processing facilities was the first such march approved by police after the city removed its mask mandate and social distancing limits.
But the organizers had to comply with the requirements of the police, such as take steps to ensure that the number of participants did not exceed the expected turnout of 100 people and ask protesters who wore masks during the event for proof of a “reasonable excuse”. At the height of the 2019 anti-government movement, the Hong Kong government invoked emergency powers to ban masks at public gatherings so it could identify protesters whom officials accused of illegal acts.
On Sunday, about 60 people voiced their opposition to the plans in Tseung Kwan Oa residential and industrial idea, and had to walk in a cordoned-off line of motion in the rain amid a heavy police presence.
Theresa Wang described the new restrictions as “a bit strange” but said they were still acceptable as the city was adjusting to the “new Hong Kong”.
“I’m not happy, but we have to accept it. We have to accept what is considered legal now,” the 70-year-old retiree said, adding that she hoped the protest was a sign that the government is more open to discussion.
Protester Jack Wong said he would prefer not to wear the badge imprinted with a number. Police previously said the requirement is aimed at preventing lawbreakers from joining the march.
“But if it is a requirement, what can I say? I prefer not to comment further. You know what I mean,” she said.
In granting their approval, the police also requested that the organizers ensure that there would be no act that would endanger national security, including displaying something seditious.
Cyrus Chan, one of the organizers of the march, said that the protesters had contacted the police about their promotional materials and slogans. Officials had previously told him that contestants should not wear all-black suits, he said. Protesters commonly wore black during the 2019 protests.
“He’s definitely strict,” Chan said. “We hope this is just an individual case. We hope to show them that Hong Kong society has the ability to have peaceful marches and they don’t need to set so many conditions to restrict us.”
Earlier this month, the Hong Kong Working Women’s Association planned a march to demand women’s and labor rights, but canceled it at the last minute without specifying why.
Days later, the association said on its Facebook page that the police had invited it to new meetings after giving it approval and that it had done everything possible to amend the agreement. But she still couldn’t launch the protest as she had wished, she wrote at the time.
A pro-democracy group said separately that the national security police had warned four of its members not to participate in the association’s march.
(with information from AP)
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