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4 Mar 2023

CANDICE CHAU, Hong Kong Free Press

Hong Kong: Women Workers’ Association cancels first post-Covid rally; police says 'violent groups' sought to attend, but without giving details

"Hong Kong women’s group cancels rally night before demo; police say ‘violent groups’ sought to attend" 4 March 2023

The Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association has cancelled on Saturday night a police-approved protest which was scheduled to be held on Sunday.

The march would have been one of the first of its kind following the outbreak of Covid-19 in the city over three years ago.

The organiser initially planned for demonstrators to march from Wan Chai to government headquarters in Admiralty, with the aim of promoting labour rights, women’s rights and gender equality ahead of the International Women’s Day next Wednesday.

The announcement was made on the association’s Facebook page, but the group did not give any reason behind the protest’s cancellation.

At a press conference on Saturday night, the police said that the authorities approved on Thursday the association’s application to hold the rally, after conducting risk assessment.

The association decided to cancel the protest “after balancing the interests of all parties,” said Cheng Wai-kin, acting senior superintendent of the police.

With the association’s decision to cancel the protest, the “letter of no objection” issued by the police was voided, and anyone who gathers at the presupposed location may risk committing participating in an unauthorised assembly, said Cheng. “Although the police hope that no one will violate the law, we still found that a lot of people, including some violent groups, said that they would attend the event,” said the police officer. However, the officer did not give any details as to who were the alleged violent groups vowing to attend the event.

Cheng also did not give answers to questions over whether the cancellation was linked to the start of the Chinese parliamentary “Two Sessions” meetings in Beijing on Sunday. With the Covid-19 mask mandate lifted less than a week ago, questions were also raised over whether participants of legal assemblies would be in violation of the anti-mask law, as the majority of Hongkongers still opted to wear face masks.

Cheng said on Saturday that while the police had discussions on the matter with the organiser, the association did not tell the authorities whether it was the reason behind the cancellation.

The mask ban was implemented by then-chief executive Carrie Lam using her emergency powers in October 2019 to target the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest. Offenders risk a year in jail and a fine of HK$25,000. The regulation states that the ban applies to authorised and illegal assemblies, public meetings and public processions. [...]

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the implementation of the sweeping security legislation, protests and demonstrations became a rare scene in the city. [...]