HONG KONG - The city's police have thrown out an organiser's request to conduct the annual July 1 march, while a separate appeal against the rejection of a similar application was thrown out.
The refusal to give the green light for the demonstration organised by the Civil Human Rights Front - a coalition of pro-democracy groups and activists - is the first since the 1997 when Britain handed the territory back to China.
The annual pro-democracy march, which starts in Causeway Bay and ends in Admiralty, could have been the first large protest held after the controversial national security law kicks in. China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong, after more than a century of British colonial rule, on July 1, 1997.
The new law mooted by Beijing is widely expected to be passed by Tuesday (June 30) - the eve of the handover anniversary - when China's top legislative body meets for three days from Sunday (June 28).
The Front released the police rejection letter on Saturday. It cited health safety as a key reason for dismissing the request.
Authorities noted that the coronavirus is highly infectious and the city remains on high alert, with the Food and Health Bureau suggesting residents maintain social distancing.
The police said: "The public assembly and the march are highly dangerous activities, so the police have reasons to believe such activities would increase the risks of transmission but also be a threat to the lives and health of the public, harms public safety and affects the rights of people."
They added that since last June, the Front has held eight demonstrations that have either ended in violence or had unrest break out mid-way.
Last year, the march, held amid the anti-extradition Bill movement, was said by organisers to have attracted a crowd of 550,000.
The Front's vice-convenor, Mr Eric Lai, had expected the authorities to ban the march.
"It is certainly a political decision by the authority to present a false appearance of no objection to the national security law by the public on July 1, and of avoiding a big crowd against the government that can be captured by foreign media," he told The Straits Times.
Mr Lai added that the Front would appeal the decision.
At the same time, an appeal board on Saturday dismissed a district councillor's attempt to overturn the police ban on rallies he had hoped to hold on Sunday and July 1.
Eastern district councillor Andy Chui, who is pro-democracy, had wanted to stage a march from East Point Road in Causeway Bay to Chater Road in Central on the two days.
Similarly, the police had earlier cited public health worries and possibility of violence as reasons for rejecting the request.
Both the Front and Mr Chui pointed out that the police's reasons for refusal are inconsistent as theme parks like Ocean Park that attract huge crowds have been allowed to reopen.
Hong Kong's sole member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, Mr Tam Yiu Chung, said on Saturday that he will flag to Beijing calls for the law to be retroactive and for the penalties to be "heavy enough".
He added that it was "meaningless" to bring up some people's opposition to the impending legislation at the Standing Committee meeting.