Dozens of people joined Hong Kong’s first authorized protest since the lifting of the ban on SundayRestrictions under unprecedentedly strict rules, including wearing a numbered badge around their necks.
The rules imposed by police, who cited security reasons, heralded the financial center’s return to normalcy after years of anti-virus controls and political unrest.
During the pandemic, protests were rare. Also, many activists have been silenced or jailed after Beijing enacted a national security law following mass protests in 2019. Critics say the city’s freedom of assembly that was promised to Hong Kong when it returned to China from Britain in 1997.
Sunday’s protest against construction of a proposed recovery and waste-processing facility was the first police-sanctioned march of its kind since the city repealed its mask mandate and social distancing limits.
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But organizers had to comply with police requirements such as taking measures to ensure the number of participants did not exceed the expected turnout of 100 and asking for proof of a “reasonable excuse” from masked protesters during the event. At the height of 2019Hong Kong’s government has called for emergency powers to ban masks from public gatherings so it can identify protesters who are officials accused of illegal activities.
On Sunday, about 80 people expressed opposition to the plan in the residential and industrial area of Tseung Kwan O, organizers said. They had to walk a cordon-off moving line 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 adjusted to the “new Hong Kong”.
“I’m not happy but we have to accept it. We have to accept what is considered legal now,” said the 70-year-old retiree, who hoped the protest would be a sign the government was more open to negotiations. .
Protester Jack Wong said he would prefer not to wear a badge printed with a number. Police said earlier the requirement was aimed at deterring lawbreakers from joining the procession.
“But if it’s necessary, what can I say? I don’t want to comment anymore. You know what I mean,” he said.
While giving its approval, the police also requested that the organizers ensure that there will be no act that could endanger national security, including any seditious display.
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Cyrus Chan, one of the organizers of the march, said the protesters approached the police with their propaganda materials and slogans. Officials had earlier told her that participants should not wear all black, she said. Protesters typically wore black during the 2019 protests.
“It’s definitely tough,” Chan said. “We hope this is just an individual case. We hope to show them that Hong Kong society has the ability to peacefully march and they don’t need to impose so many conditions to restrict us.”
Earlier this month, the Hong Kong Women’s Workers Association planned a march to call for labor and women’s rights but canceled it at the last minute without giving reasons.
A few days later, the association said on its Facebook page that the police had invited it for further meetings after sanctioning it and that it had tried its best to amend the agreement. But it still didn’t start the protests he wanted, he wrote at the time.
A pro-democracy group separately said the National Security Police had warned four of its members not to attend the association’s march.