On March 26, 2023, a small group of 80 protesters wearing numbered lanyards took part in an authorized protest in Hong Kong. This was the first officially authorized protest since the enactment of the national security law in 2020.
The protestors were Tseung Kwan O residents, who marched under the rain in Tseung Kwan O East. They were holding banners, which express demands of scrapping potential reclamation and waste transfer station projects in the district.
Participants were required to wear numbered lanyards around their necks and were prohibited from wearing masks. The march was capped at 100 people.
Notably, police have screened promotional materials for the protest. Participants were also asked not to wear clothes in yellow and black – colors associated with the pro-democracy and mass movements in Hong Kong 2019 protests.
Throughout the hour-long event, organizers repeatedly advised journalists to stay away from them as police warned that the presence of the media could lead to the cancellation of the march. A spokesman for the Hong Kong police said the arrangements were based on their risk assessment of the organizers’ “purpose, nature, number of participants, past experience and latest circumstances”.
The protest was a far cry from the massive protests which took place from mid-2019 to early-2020, when hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers rallied against the Chinese government in Beijing’s tightening grip on the city. Clashes frequently occurred between protestors and the police, leading to many casualties.
Many citizens believe that Sunday’s demonstration should have been held without police intervention – a right that peaceful protesters in Hong Kong have rarely had in recent times, and one that has been lost even more since the imposition of the sweeping national security laws.
Since the Chinese central government implemented the National Security Law on June 30, 2020, Hong Kong’s once vibrant democratic civil society has been hit hard. Dozens of pro-democracy activists and opposition leaders have been arrested, and are potentially facing life imprisonment for allegedly undermining national security. Demonstrations or gatherings with political objectives were also largely banned by the police over the past few years, citing the pandemic as the reason.
When asked if there is room for the police to scale down measures in the future, the police only said measures will based on the situation at the time. Cyrus Chan, who organized Sunday’s march, said he hopes the orderly march opens the door for other protests. He hopes that Hong Kongers can protest in a rational and peaceful manner without any restrictions.
Featured image: 反對將軍澳再填海 Facebook group