Hong Kong police refuse permission for rally to mark July 1 handover

This year's anniversary is particularly sensitive as it coincides with events to mark the Chinese Communist Party's centenary. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kong police on Monday (June 28) denied permission for a rally on July 1, the 24th anniversary of the former British colony's handover to Chinese rule, citing coronavirus restrictions, the organisers said.

Tens of thousands of residents have traditionally marched on July 1 to demand everything from greater democracy to a solution to one of the world's most expensive property markets.

This year's anniversary is particularly sensitive as it coincides with events to mark the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party, with dozens of Hong Kong officials travelling to Beijing to join celebrations.

In a notice sent to the organisers - League of Social Democrats, Tin Shui Wai Connection and Save Lantau Alliance - police said that given the rules on gatherings of more than four people, any rally would cause "great risk to citizens' lives and health, harming public safety and affecting others' rights".

Police also told the organisers that anyone who defied the ban could face jail of up to five years.

A police spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

The organisers said they would appeal against the decision to a board on public meetings and processions.

Civil Human Rights Front, which has traditionally set up the annual rally, said this month it would not do so this year due to administrative difficulties and the city's political environment, the Hong Kong media reported.

The demonstration last year was banned for the first time in 17 years, with police also citing coronavirus restrictions.

Thousands defied the ban and took to the streets to protest against a sweeping national security law imposed on the city just hours earlier by Beijing.

Critics of the government have accused it of using social distancing measures to block rallies after anti-government protests in 2019 plunged the city into turmoil. The government rejects the accusation.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam last week said there was no exact science in determining social distancing measures.

Some activists have questioned why the rally was banned when concerts, art fairs and other events were allowed to go ahead despite an official ban on large gatherings.

The authorities this year also banned an annual June 4 vigil to mark the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square, implementing a security operation to prevent people from gathering.

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