Pro-democracy organisers defy Hong Kong officials over July 1 rally and tell supporters to join march along the route
Appeal board orders procession to begin in Victoria Park and police warn of ‘conflicts and chaos’ if supporters try to join march in major shopping district
Organisers of Hong Kong’s annual July 1 pro-democracy rally have told supporters not to flock to Victoria Park this weekend but to join the march as it passes through one of the city’s busiest shopping districts – despite being ordered not to do so.
The Civic Human Rights Front made the announcement on Monday, after its plea for marchers to be allowed to assemble at locations outside the park was dismissed following a three-hour hearing of the Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions.
Police had ordered the procession to begin on the central lawn of the park, and in response to the front’s call, senior superintendent Peter Tse Ming-yeung warned such a move “could lead to conflict and chaos”.
Hung Chun-ngai, the front’s deputy convenor, has asked supporters joining the march in Causeway Bay on Sunday to do so from the westbound side of Hennessy Road, as the procession moves towards Admiralty.
However, he was quick to stress the group would still start from the park, but would only get the “necessary groups” to assemble there.
“Other citizens are welcome to join along the way,” Hung said. Tse, meanwhile, cautioned people against trying to “cut-in-line” along the route.
The annual procession that marks the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997 has been a contested one this year, after police told organisers to assemble participants at the central lawn of Victoria Park, even though they wanted to use the park’s six soccer pitches, which can accommodate tens of thousands of people.
The procession started at the pitches from 2004 to 2016, and during the 2003 rally about 500,000 people showed up to protest against proposed national security laws.
But since last year, a pro-Beijing group has been given the space. In 2017, the Hong Kong Celebrations Association held a science expo to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover. This year, it will host a three-day cultural event featuring lion and dragon dance performances and an exhibition related to regional integration. Pro-establishment political parties will also be involved.
The organisers of the march objected to the police ruling, saying marchers could clash with the pro-Beijing supporters while leaving the park from the central lawn.
Their proposal had the march starting from the pedestrian zone on East Point Road, or from a bus stop and football pitch at Moreton Terrace, both of which they said had been used as assembly areas in previous rallies.
But the appeals board unanimously rejected that suggestion, saying it would “negatively impact” road users.
The board drew on advice from the police, which said the pedestrian zone could only contain about 1,500 people, while most July 1 marches started with about 10,000 people. The Fire Services Department said starting there would obstruct rescue work at nearby buildings in the event of an emergency.
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Moreton Terrace was also not an option, the force said, as it would jam up the only road into the Tai Hang residential area, and hinder any emergency response services.
The board’s chairman, Pang Kin-kee, voiced concerns that the marchers would commit “civil disobedience” and ignore the designated starting point.
If that is the case, it would make the arrangements meaningless, Pang said. Pro-democracy lawmaker Au Nok-hin, also a deputy convenor of the front, said during the hearing that organisers would conduct the march in a “legal manner”.