The Hong Kong police have officially banned a protest set to occur on Saturday in Yuen Long.
On Thursday, the police issued a letter prohibiting the protest, after considering public safety, public order, other people’s rights and freedom. The move comes amid pressure from rural groups.
The demonstration was set to protest the violent mob attacks at the district’s metro station. On Sunday night, a group of unknown men in white attacked people at the MTR station with bamboo sticks and metal bars, among other weapons. The incident left at least 45 people injured including journalists and a lawmaker. At least eleven have since been arrested.
In an earlier letter addressed to the Yuen Long police commander, the chair of the Shap Pat Heung Rural Committee expressed “strong objection” to the march on Saturday: “It has already been widely circulated online that people will attack Nam Pin Wai village that night,” said Ching Chan-ming. “If the police still issue a letter of no objection, they will be responsible for all of the serious consequences.”
Max Chung, who applied for police approval for the “Reclaim Yuen Long” demonstration, said he will appeal. He said he will still walk the length of Saturday’s march on his own: “This is not a protest. I am just telling you my personal activity,” he told reporters. “For now, I will not tell others to join my personal walk.”
‘Danger to marchers
Police listed five factors for their decision to ban the march, which included the July 21 attacks: “We have reason to believe that the marchers will engage in physical confrontation with villagers, and will pose a danger to marchers, villagers and other members of the public,” the letter read.
Police also said the march organiser refused to change the route despite police requests, could not provide backup routes, and could not prove that there will be enough marshalls on the day to ensure safety.
The march may also “create serious obstruction to the roads and pose a danger to marchers,” police said, saying that the organiser failed to provide a “reasonable turnout estimate.” Police also took issue with the organiser’s choice of the neighbourhood playground as a gathering place: the organiser did not obtain permission from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) to use the spot, and the sidewalk outside was “not ideal or safe” as it was too narrow, police said.
Police also noted that the march would come close to the tracks of the Light Rail and various shops, which could cause danger or affect the rights and freedoms of Yuen Long residents.
Finally, police said that the “social climate in recent days” meant that march organisers could no longer control the behaviour of attendees. Even if the police were to impose conditions, it would still be unhelpful in protecting public safety, the letter read.
Kenneth Lau, head of the rural body Heung Yee Kuk, said on Thursday that the Kuk will urge villagers not to go out during any protest in order to prevent conflict. He urged protesters not to attack villages or the Sap Pat Heung Rural Committee office.
“We also urge protesters to remain calm and leave as soon as possible after the protest,” he said.
Lau said protesters should use legal means to protest against lawmaker Junius Ho if they wish. Ho, an indigenous villager, was seen shaking hands with men in white on Sunday – before some attacked passengers in Yuen Long station.
The march was originally set to begin at Shui Pin Tsuen Playground on Tai Yuk Road at 3pm. It would have ended at Yuen Long MTR station, though protesters had no plans to enter Yuen Long’s villages, where the men in white retreated to on Sunday.
Lawmaker Au Nok-hin said in a statement that the police might have contravened Article 27 of the Basic Law if they banned the public demonstration without valid grounds.
The “objective effect” of the police decision was that the public will still gather in Yuen Long on Saturday, but they will bear the risk of joining an unlawful assembly, and the protest will become difficult to control, Au added.
It is rare for the police to object to a demonstration outright, Au said, citing past cases where police would try to find common ground with the march organisers. He said the police should have suggested alternatives to show what they considered acceptable.
A photo of a separate demonstration has been widely-shared among protest groups, calling for a memorial gathering for late Chinese premier Li Peng, at 3pm on Saturday. It will take place at Shui Pin Tsuen Playground in Yuen Long – the original starting point of the banned march.