July 1 march

Human rights group to deploy 15 observers for July 1 march in Hong Kong to watch police

Announcement comes as starting point of event remains matter of contention

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 June, 2018, 7:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 June, 2018, 9:54am

A human rights group in Hong Kong will deploy 15 observers to see how police interact with demonstrators at a march on Sunday for the anniversary of the city’s return to Beijing’s rule.

Civil Rights Observer, one of many civilian groups formed after the 79-day Occupy protests of 2014 calling for greater democracy, announced on Thursday it had trained 15 volunteers to “witness” interactions involving police and pay particular attention to “abuse of power” by the force.

Group member Icarus Wong Ho-yin said the group’s volunteers would be impartial.

“The observers are not protesters,” he explained. “They will not give advice to anyone during the march.”

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Observers will be given vests to wear so that marchers and law enforcement can easily identify them.

While the observers would primarily produce written records, Wong added, they might also film events “if it’s a better format” for capturing incidents such as physical clashes.

The starting point of the march held on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover in 1997 is a matter of contention this year. The procession will end at government headquarters in Admiralty, with slogans chanted along the way and speeches made upon arrival.

Police ordered the march to begin on the central lawn of Victoria Park, on the fringes of the bustling Causeway Bay shopping district.

But event organiser Civil Human Rights Front objected. It said its participants might clash with the pro-Beijing group using the six soccer pitches at the same time.

The front, an umbrella body of 50 pro-democracy groups, appealed to a Security Bureau board on Monday to start its march from other parts of Causeway Bay. Its request was denied.

We hope people do not worry about joining midway
Sammy Ip Chi-hin, Civil Human Rights Front

On Thursday, the body announced that it would begin the march from the central lawn, following police orders. Twelve of its core member groups would later join the march from the westbound side of Hennessy Road.

In response to Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung’s warning that those gathering outside the designated zone could risk committing illegal assembly, the front’s convenor, Sammy Ip Chi-hin, urged people not to quarrel with police if approached.

“We hope people do not worry about joining midway,” Ip said.

The front estimated 66,000 people attended the march last year. Police claimed 14,500 did.

Meanwhile, pan-democratic lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick urged Hongkongers intending to join the march not to be “distracted” by the government’s relief measures to tackle the city’s housing crisis, saying larger problems remained.

Chu called Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s expected announcement on Friday of new policies, including a plan to tax developers for hoarding flats, “sweeteners”.

“Lam cannot resolve the core conflicts, such as retirement protection and labour rights or housing issues, because she is bound by vested interests,” he said.