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Friday, Feb 26, 2021

Opposition veterans to defy police ban on July 1 march, even with national security law expected to be in force

‘We are aware of the risks of being prosecuted,’ Civil Human Rights Front’s Figo Chan says in calling on Hongkongers to ‘take to the streets’ to oppose new law. Police plan to have 4,000 riot officers on standby from Tuesday night, while the area around the convention centre has been placed on lockdown

Veteran opposition activists in Hong Kong, including Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai, have announced plans to defy a police ban and organise a July 1 march to protest against the new national security law.

The Tuesday announcement came just hours after Beijing’s top legislative body passed the controversial law, which targets acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security. The law was expected to take effect late on Tuesday.

For the first time since the 1997 handover, police on Saturday rejected an application by the Civil Human Rights Front to hold a protest march on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty. The force cited public health risks related to the coronavirus pandemic and violence at past rallies organised by the front.

On Tuesday evening, the front lost its appeal against the police’s decision. Its convenor Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit pledged that the front would announce an action plan next week if the group still survived under the new law.

“Imported [coronavirus] cases are the main cause of the increase in the city’s infection tally,” Sham said. “If imposing a 14-day quarantine period cannot stop the importation of diseases, then why shouldn’t the government extend its quarantine period? But authorities chose to limit local gatherings instead. It’s ridiculous.”

Sources told the Post on Monday that more than 4,000 riot police officers would be on standby across the city from Tuesday evening in anticipation of potential unrest, while the area around the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, the site of the ceremony marking the handover, had been placed on lockdown.

But Figo Chan, deputy convenor of the front, said he would press ahead with the march in his capacity as a private citizen, joining hands with Wu and independent lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, along with a group of district councillors including League of Social Democrats veteran “Bull” Tsang Kin-shing.

“We hope all Hongkongers can take to the streets to oppose the national security law,” Chan said at a noon press conference. “I know it is difficult for Beijing to withdraw it, but we have to stand up and voice out.

“We are aware of the risks of being prosecuted. But we insist on taking the lead, as we want to tell Hongkongers not to fear. If we stay silent because of fear, our freedoms will be undermined for sure.”

They called on people to gather at East Point Road in Causeway Bay at 2pm and start marching to Central at 3pm.

When asked if they would remind participants not to shout independence slogans or wave certain flags with the national security law expected to be in force, Chan said Hongkongers still enjoyed freedom of speech and that organisers would only call on people to remain peaceful.

The major slogans of the march would be “oppose the national security law” and “five demands, not one less”, he added.

The five demands first emerged during last year’s anti-government protest movement, which was sparked in June by opposition to the now-withdrawn extradition bill. They include calls for an independent inquiry into alleged abuse of force by police and the implementation of universal suffrage.

Wu, who is seeking re-election, said he understood the risks of being arrested or even disqualified from running for office, but said that was not his primary consideration.

“We would like to see people keep using peaceful ways to demonstrate their will to fight to the end,” he said.


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