Hong Kong faces renewed tensions with plan for big march today

Pro-Beijing supporters waving Chinese flags at a rally in Wan Chai yesterday, while elsewhere in Hong Kong, anti-government protesters gathered in Central to show support for Indonesian helper Yuli Riswati, an award-winning writer who was deported on
Pro-Beijing supporters waving Chinese flags at a rally in Wan Chai yesterday, while elsewhere in Hong Kong, anti-government protesters gathered in Central to show support for Indonesian helper Yuli Riswati, an award-winning writer who was deported on Monday for failing to extend her visa.PHOTO: REUTERS

Govt defends track record as rights group eyes big turnout at march to protect human rights

The city is bracing itself for renewed tensions today, with a march approved by the authorities expected to draw a huge turnout.

While attention has been focused on Hong Kong's economic outlook over the past few days, netizens have been drumming up support for the march, which is being seen as a litmus test of support for the anti-government movement amid a weakening economy.

The Civil Human Rights Front, the group behind some of the city's biggest protests, is expecting a massive turnout for the march to protect human rights. The first organised by the Front to be approved in months, it is due to begin at 3pm at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay and will proceed to Chater Garden in Central.

Responding to the planned Human Rights Day event, the government defended the city's human rights track record, saying the public have had "unquestionable freedom of peaceful assembly, of procession and of demonstration".

Over the past five years, Hong Kong has held about 44,000 public assemblies and 6,000 public processions - an average of about 27 such events a day, it pointed out in a statement.

Since June, there had been over 900 public demonstrations, processions and public meetings, of which many ended in violent and illegal confrontations including arson and vandalism, the government added. It said it hoped that when people expressed their views and opinions, they would do so without infringing on others' rights and freedom.

Hong Kong police commissioner Chris Tang told the media in Beijing the police would take a "humanistic" approach to minor incidents but warned of resolute measures against violence.

The rally will be taking place amid growing concerns about the state of the Hong Kong economy but two top city officials have offered contrasting views for the future, one more positive than the other.

Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Edward Yau said yesterday that the economy would soldier on and may pick up next year.

  • 44,000

  • Number of public assemblies held in Hong Kong over the past five years.

  • 6,000

  • Number of public processions in Hong Kong over the past five years.

  • 900

  • Number of public demonstrations, processions and public meetings held in the city since June this year.

His prognosis, delivered on a local radio programme, followed Financial Secretary Paul Chan's warning that the months of protests cost the economy two percentage points last quarter.

Mr Yau offered listeners a more upbeat view, saying the pickup in Hong Kong's economy would ride on the back of progress in trade talks between the United States and China and as the anti-government unrest, which has gripped the city for almost seven months, fades away.

He also said dialogue between the government and society was necessary to resolve the current political crisis, adding that while the retail and tourism sectors had been badly hit, professional and financial services remained "very much intact".

In contrast, Mr Chan last Monday painted a grim outlook, saying the ongoing unrest has shaved two percentage points of growth from the economy which is already in a precarious position.

 
 

The economy has suffered a technical recession for the first time in a decade after growth contracted for two consecutive quarters, shrinking by 3.2 per cent in the third quarter from a year ago.

On Wednesday, Mr Chan pledged an extra HK$4 billion (S$695 million) in new relief measures to prop up the economy and businesses, taking total planned spending on stimulus measures to HK$25 billion.

Speaking on a separate radio programme yesterday, Mr Chan said he would consider giving cash handouts when drawing up the 2020-2021 budget.

Yesterday afternoon, hundreds of pro-government supporters gathered in Wan Chai, protesting against the pan-Democrats' use of "unscrupulous means to become district councillors" and blaming the media for spreading "fake news".

Meanwhile, anti-government protesters gathered in Edinburgh Place in Central to show support for Indonesian helper Yuli Riswati, who is also an award-winning writer. The authorities deported her on Monday for failing to extend her visa, a move her supporters alleged was politically motivated.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 08, 2019, with the headline 'HK faces renewed tensions with plan for big march today'. Print Edition | Subscribe