HONG KONG • Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners yesterday vowed to stage a major march over the weekend despite police ruling the rally illegal, setting the scene for more unrest in a city battered by months of violent protests.
Hong Kong has been relatively calm for the past week, with only small demonstrations taking place. Tomorrow's march will test the strength of the pro-democracy campaign which has in the past rallied millions to take to the streets.
In rejecting the protesters' request for a march permit, the police said past events had been "hijacked by a group of radical protesters" who set fire to buildings, hurled petrol bombs at police officers, detonated a homemade bomb, and wrecked infrastructure.
"While we always respect citizens' rights to assembly and freedom of speech, we are alarmed by this epidemic that radical protesters resort to violence in expressing their opinion," the police public relations branch's acting Chief Superintendent Kong Wing Cheung said in announcing the rejection.
Thousands have defied the police in the past and staged mass rallies, which are often peaceful at first but become violent at night.
"We will not back down even after the attack on the Civil Human Rights Front convener Jimmy Sham," the rights group said.
"Our most powerful force is the unity and resistance of this civil society."
Mr Sham was beaten by four men wielding hammers and knives on Wednesday, a move pro-democracy lawmakers said was meant to intimidate protesters and incite violence ahead of tomorrow's march.
Protesters last night formed a human chain wearing face masks with Mr Sham's image, and carried a banner reading "We are all Jimmy Sham. Je suis Jimmy Sham", a reference to the French slogan adopted by supporters of freedom of speech after the 2015 shooting at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo's office.
The human chain was planned to stretch 40km along the city's metro, with many wearing masks in defiance of a ban on covering faces at public rallies.
Said a protester known only as Kiki, 29: "I am not worried about being prosecuted because I violate the anti-mask law. I think people won't be afraid to come out on Sunday."
Hong Kong has been hit by four months of protests, driven by concerns Beijing is eroding freedoms granted when Britain handed the city back to China in 1997. China denies the accusation, blaming foreign nations such as the US and Britain for inciting the unrest.
Two people have been shot and wounded by the police and thousands injured. More than 2,300 people have been arrested since June.
Meanwhile, a Hong Kong police association told its members it is in talks with Chinese property developer Agile Group to develop a "Hong Kong City" in southern China for their retirement, according to a letter seen by Reuters.
The letter from the Hong Kong Junior Police Officers' Association dated Wednesday said "Hong Kong City" will be located in Zhaoqing, 200km or 11/2 hours by high-speed rail from Hong Kong.