Louise Delmotte / AP
HONG KONG — Dozens on Sunday joined the first authorized protest in Hong Kong since major novel coronavirus restrictions were lifted under unprecedentedly strict rules, including wearing a numbered armband around their necks.
The rules drawn up by police, who cited security reasons, came as the financial hub touted a return to normal after years of anti-virus controls and political unrest.
During the pandemic, protests have been rare due to COVID-19 restrictions. In addition, many activists have been silenced or imprisoned after Beijing imposed a national security law following mass protests in 2019. Critics say the freedom of assembly in the city that Hong Kong promised when it returned to China from Britain in 1997 has been eroded.
Sunday’s demonstration against a proposed reclamation and construction of garbage handling facilities was the first police-approved rally of its kind after the city revoked its mandate for mask and social distancing limits.
But the organizers had to comply with police requirements such as taking measures to ensure the number of participants did not exceed the expected number of 100 and requiring proof of “reasonable excuse” from protesters who wore masks during the event. At the height of the 2019 anti-government movement, Hong Kong’s government turned to emergency powers to ban masks from public gatherings so it could identify protesters who officials have accused of illegal actions.
On Sunday, about 80 people voiced their opposition to the plans in Cong Kwan O, a residential and industrial area, the organizer said. They were forced to walk in a moving line cordoned off in the rain, amid a heavy police presence.
Teresa Wang called the new restrictions “a bit strange” but said they were still acceptable because the city was adjusting to the “new Hong Kong”.
“I’m not happy but we have to accept it. We have to accept what is legal now,” said the 70-year-old retiree, adding that she hoped the protest was a sign that the government was more open to debate. .
Protester Jack Wong said he preferred not to wear the badge printed with a number. Police earlier said the requirement was intended to prevent lawbreakers from joining the rally.
“But if that’s a requirement, what can I say? I’d rather not comment further. You know what I mean,” he said.
In granting its approval, the police also requested that the organizers ensure that there were no acts that might endanger national security, including the display of anything seditious.
Cyrus Chan, one of the organizers of the rally, said the protesters had approached the police about their promotional materials and slogans. Officers had told him earlier that participants should not wear all black. Protesters usually wear black during the 2019 protests.
“He’s definitely strict,” said Chan. “We hope this is just an isolated case. We hope to show them that the Hong Kong community has the ability to organize peaceful marches and they don’t need to set many conditions to restrict us.”
Earlier this month, the Hong Kong Women Workers Association planned a march to demand labor and women’s rights but canceled it at the last minute without specifying the reason.
Days later, the association said on its Facebook page that the police had invited it to more meetings after giving it consent and that it had done its best to amend the agreement. She wrote at the time that she still had not been able to launch the protest as she had hoped.
A pro-democracy group separately said four of its members had been warned by the National Security Police not to participate in the rally.
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