Don’t bring Hong Kong independence banners to New Year march, protesters told
- Organiser Civil Human Rights Front is told by officials that advocacy of separatism will not be permitted outside government headquarters – a demand described as unprecedented
The organiser of Hong Kong’s annual New Year protest march says it has been ordered by officials to prevent demonstrators from displaying pro-independence banners outside government headquarters.
Describing the demand as unprecedented and a threat to freedoms, the Civil Human Rights Front vowed not to do so.
Groups advocating Hong Kong seceding from China have called for supporters to join the protest on New Year’s Day.
The march will lead demonstrators from Causeway Bay to a forecourt dubbed “Civic Square” outside the government’s headquarters in Admiralty.
Participants will be protesting against what they say are shrinking freedoms in the city.
On Friday the government’s Administration Wing said an application to hold the rally at the forecourt had been approved, but independence advocacy as seen at past protests would not be tolerated.
“Any independence advocacy is against Hong Kong’s constitutional order. The government will not allow any activities against laws, including the Basic Law, to take place inside the East Wing forecourt,” officials wrote, referring to the city’s mini-constitution, which states Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China.
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The organiser must obey laws and advise participants to do the same, the statement added.
A rally on October 1, China’s National Day, saw minor scuffles at the forecourt when a protester was stopped from entering because a banner he was holding implied support for independence.
The protester, who was eventually allowed in, said he had taken the banner to previous protests and had never been stopped. It read: “If Hong Kong doesn’t go independent, it will become the mainland.”
Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, convenor of the front, said the order was a step backwards for human rights and had no sound legal justification.
“I cannot see why our freedoms are limited once we step in the gateway of the forecourt. Are the streets we march along not under the reign of the government?” he said.
Expressions of thought about independence were not against any criminal laws, Sham added.
“We have no reason to be an accomplice of the government,” he said, and no screening of banners or placards would be carried out.
Sham said the front did not support independence but respected people’s right to do so, and anyone was welcome to join.
Protest themes this year include opposition to “political persecution” and proposed national security legislation, as well as calls for the arrest of former city leader Leung Chun-ying.
Three pro-independence groups – Student Localism, the Hong Kong National Front and the Students Independence Union – are set to participate.
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Tony Chung Hon-lam, leader of Student Localism, said about 30 members from the three groups would attend. But they were planning to disperse outside police headquarters in Wan Chai and refrain from entering Civic Square so as not to affect the rally.
Wayne Chan, of the Students Independence Union, said members of his group would still display banners with independence slogans “to spread their aspirations across the world”.
“We will not retreat under government suppression,” he said.