HONG KONG - Authorities in the city are gearing up for potential clashes at the start of the long weekend despite a ban on what would have been an annual march by a key human rights group, with some 6,000 police officers expected to be deployed on Thursday (Oct 1), which is China’s National Day.
Local media HK01 and Sing Tao reported that the initial estimated deployment is double the original number given the risks.
The news comes as calls have been circulating online and via social media for people to join protests urging Beijing to return the 12 Hong Kongers who illegally entered Chinese waters.
The dozen individuals, all of whom face charges linked to last year’s unrest, have been held without charge in Shenzhen since they were arrested while attempting to flee via speedboat to Taiwan in August.
They were previously arrested under Hong Kong’s national security law.
On Monday (Sept 28), the appeal board upheld a police decision to ban an application from the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) for a march from Causeway Bay to Central, in what would have been Hong Kong’s largest authorised protest in months.
The board agreed that a march on Oct 1, also the Mid-Autumn Festival, would put public health at risk.
This is although CHRF suggested that the march adopt social distancing measures including donning masks and walking in groups of no more than four – the cap on public gatherings under current restrictions.
CHRF had organised some of the city’s largest-ever protests, including peaceful rallies against the contentious and extradition Bill last year that drew millions to the streets and paved the way for the proposal by Chief Executive Carrie Lam to be withdrawn.
The Covid-19 situation in Hong Kong has improved over the past two weeks with daily new infections falling from the three-digit figures in August.
The city recorded 5,079 confirmed cases, including 105 deaths on Tuesday.
The Security Bureau on Monday said it is aware “that some people on the Internet claim that they will continue to take part in the procession regardless of whether it is authorised or not, and advocate the use of violence, including hurling petrol bombs and illegally blocking roads, in making their demands”.
It condemned such acts, adding that anyone found taking part in an unauthorised assembly is liable to a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, while rioters face a jail term of up to 10 years.
In a Sept 7 threat assessment report, Steve Vickers and Associates noted that stability has returned to the city despite the political divide.
The police, it said, have made a series of arrests under the national security law, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai on Aug 10 in a much-publicised raid on the Apple Daily newspaper offices, as well as almost 300 people in relation to protests on Sept 6 – the day Hong Kong’s Legislative Council election was originally scheduled for – in Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei.
“The overall result is a return to comparative stability,” the report noted, adding that protest numbers have fallen as demonstrators have sought to flee.
On Monday evening, about 20 gathered at the Pacific Place mall in Admiralty to mark the sixth anniversary of the start of the Umbrella Movement in 2014, chanting anti-government slogans and singing protest songs. Police urged them to disperse and there were no clashes.
Calls for people to join free-style assemblies on Thursday have drawn the ire of Beijing's liaison office.
It said on Tuesday in a statement online demands for the 12 Hong Kong activists detained on the mainland to be released were "absurd".
"Those who violate the law must be punished by the law, which is common knowledge," it said, adding that some radicals had called for attacks on police stations, or called on people to buy weapons - actions that breach the national security law.