| 27 May 2024, Monday |

Security tight in Hong Kong on China anniversary, official says city now stable

Police deployed in the streets of Hong Kong in large numbers on Thursday to prevent protests on the anniversary of its return to Chinese rule, and its acting leader said a national security law had brought order back to the city after chaos.

Police vans, water cannon trucks, armored vehicles and police units patrolled the streets. Passers-by were stopped and searched, with 11 people arrested in the Mong Kok district for allegedly distributing “seditious” leaflets.

Parts of Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island – where an annual civil society and pro-democracy march normally kicks off – were shut down to prevent any public processions or meetings from taking place, and all other public assemblies banned by police, citing COVID-19 restrictions.

Hong Kong’s acting leader John Lee said in a speech the authorities would continue to take a “steady stance” to protect national security, and that the city had returned to order after a period of chaos.

“Hong Kong absolutely has the conditions to rebound,” he said.

Beijing imposed the security law on June 30 last year to punish anything China deems as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

The security law was Beijing’s first major step to put the global financial hub onto an authoritarian path, kick-starting a campaign dubbed “patriots rule Hong Kong,” which included moves to reduce democratic representation in the city’s legislature and various screening mechanisms for politicians.

Lee was speaking at a flag-raising ceremony marking the 24th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997, which coincides with the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other senior officials were invited to Beijing for the party celebrations. Lee was appointed as her No.2 last week after playing a key role in the crackdown over the past year as security secretary.

Critics of the government say it has used the security law to crush dissent in the former British colony. Officials in Beijing and Hong Kong say the new law has plugged national security “loopholes” exposed by anti-government demonstrations in 2019.

So far under the law, authorities have arrested 117 people, mostly democratic politicians, activists, journalists and students.

“On the day of July 1, I am nothing more than one of tens of thousands of Hong Kongers who want their voices heard,” tweeted pro-democracy campaigner and barrister Chow Hang-tung, who was re-arrested on the eve of the sensitive anniversary.

“They want to kill the monkey to scare the chicken, then we must let them know Hong Kongers won’t give up.”

Beijing said it was necessary after mass pro-democracy and anti-China protests in 2019 that have been described as acts endangering national security. Many protesters, however, say they were demanding Beijing respect constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.

Usually on July 1, tens of thousands of people take to the streets in Hong Kong to protest against anything from Beijing’s manoeuvres in the city to unaffordable housing.

“It is crystal clear that under the NSL (national security law), over a year, it does have a chilling effect on Hong Kong people … less people would have the confidence to go on the street to speak out,” said Raphael Wong, an activist with the League of Social Democrats.

The gang, along with three others, staged a morning demonstration that was surrounded by scores of police officers. They held a yellow banner that read, “Free all political prisoners,” and demanded that authorities release them.

There were calls for China to allow independent observers to come to Hong Kong to assess the situation on the ground, with the goal of finding ways for China to improve the law, in an online discussion on the law that included officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, the European Union, and the United Nations.

“We want to come,” Clement Voule, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Peaceful Assembly, remarked.

  • Reuters