Hong Kong’s July 1 march participants could face legal action over start point in shopping areas, police chief Stephen Lo warns
Authorities want event to begin at a lawn in Victoria Park instead, citing security concerns and issues over crowd control
Hong Kong’s police chief on Saturday warned that participants of the annual July 1 pro-democracy march could face legal consequences if they press ahead and gather at shopping areas near Victoria Park in Causeway Bay.
The remarks by Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung came as a police source said marchers could even be arrested for unlawful assembly if they ignore warnings by authorities.
The force on Friday issued a notice of no objection to the Civil Human Rights Front event on condition that it start at the park’s central lawn, citing security concerns.
The front, an umbrella organisation of 50 pro-democracy groups, had earlier applied for the march to begin at either the pedestrian zones at East Point Road or Great George Street.
Organisers expressed disappointment with the decision and urged people to join the rally at East Point Road as planned.
Lo said shopping areas are not an ideal location for such a large public event as the roads are narrow and could be packed with pedestrians and vehicles. July 1 is a public holiday marking Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Lo warned that participants could commit other offences if they press ahead with their plan.
“I hope they can give this more thought because they would be engaging in unlawful assembly and unlawful procession,” he said. “We will make suitable deployments. Depending on the situation, we will take necessary actions.”
Lo added that the route suggested by the front would jeopardise public safety and the well-being of participants.
A police insider also told the Post that if protesters disregard this year’s conditions and start the rally in shopping areas on East Point Road, they could face arrest for unlawful assembly, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail.
“The organisers should take it up with the Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions if they are not satisfied with the condition,” the source said.
The front’s deputy convenor, Au Nok-hin, a pro-democracy lawmaker, slammed authorities and said the board was not credible or trustworthy.
“Our dignity is more important than rules,” Au said. “We would not kick off the march at a location that they throw at us. We will write to the [Independent Police Complaints Council] over the issue.”
The row centres on a decision by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which is responsible for allocating the venue. The department had turned down the group’s application for the second year running to use the Victoria Park soccer pitches as the starting point for the march.
Instead, priority was again given to a pro-Beijing group to hold an event at the site. From 2004 to 2016, the front used six soccer fields at the park as the starting point for its marches. The event last July kicked off at the park’s central lawn and the bandstand.
The Post earlier reported that police banned the rally from starting at the two shopping areas as they could not hold more than 3,000 people. The force also expected streets to be more crowded than usual with local residents and tourists flocking to the shopping hub on a public holiday.
Authorities fear crowds would block the main traffic artery on Hong Kong Island and delay the arrival of rescuers in case of emergency.
The front forecast that at least 1,500 people would gather at the starting point, but the source said that number was hugely underestimated as police records showed about 11,000 protesters left the park when the march started last year and in 2016. The figure was 91,000 in 2014.