Hong Kong police on Thursday rejected an application for a march to be held on Saturday in Yuen Long, where a violent mob attacked commuters last Sunday, but many are expected to defy the order.
A Yuen Long resident who helped file the application for the rally and march with police insisted he would be marching, while online citizens said they would go to Yuen Long on Saturday despite the ban.
A “letter of objection” issued by police noted that due to “villagers’ reactions” and radical speeches being circulated online, the police force “has reason to believe that there would be physical clashes between protesters and indigenous villagers” if they approved the march.
Calls for the rally and march were made online after Sunday night’s attacks at the West Rail Line station in Yuen Long when a mob all dressed in white indiscriminately attacked commuters, leaving 45 people hospitalized.
During a press conference on Thursday, police said they had received more than 1,700 messages about safety concerns and 13 letters from community leaders opposing the police force issuing a letter of no objection to the rally.
Earlier reports said the Shap Pat Heung Rural Committee sent a letter and warned that the police “will bear all consequences” if the march goes ahead.
Anthony Tsang Ching-fo, the acting regional commander of New Territories North regional police headquarters, said if the force had approved the letter of no objection, it would have neglected public opinion.
“We are apolitical and will not consider an applicants’ background when approving a letter of no objection,” said Tsang, adding that the decision was made based on safety concerns.
He also warned that those who insisted on going ahead with the rally and march would be guilty of staging an illegal assembly.
Max Chung, who had applied for permission for the march, said he would be filing an appeal against the police decision, with a hearing expected to be held on Friday. However, he was not optimistic about the result of the appeal.
Chung said he would be marching as planned, even if he was the only one there.
Kwok Ka-ki, a Civic Party lawmaker, said the ban set a bad precedent as it undermined people’s right to hold demonstrations as set out in the Basic Law, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.
Hongkongers echoed the calls, saying they would show up regardless. Some went online to say they would go to join a “commemoration ceremony” for former Chinese premier Li Peng, who died this week.
Li had been dubbed “the butcher of Beijing” for his role in the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, according to various posts on social media and LIHKG, the local Reddit-like message board.
Other people commented online, suggesting they would go to Yuen Long to organize worship by Christians, to go hiking, to visit friends, to catch Pokemon GO monsters or to shop in the area.
Kenneth Lau Ip-keung, the chairman of Heung Yee Kuk, the powerful organization comprising the heads of rural committees which represent villages and market towns in the New Territories, urged protesters to express their views peacefully and he called on villagers to be restrained and remain calm.
On Friday, a group of four people submitted another application for a march using an alternative route, saying proposed a safer route to avoid contacts between protesters and villagers, news website HK01.com reported.
The group proposed to start from Yuen Long Station and walk along Kau Yuk Road to Long Ping Station as the endpoint. Their application is pending approval.
The Civic Rights Observer showed their concern about the police ban on Saturday’s protest, saying it sets a precedent which jeopardizes freedom of assembly in Hong Kong, Apple Daily reported.
According to the Public Order Ordinance, any person organizing or taking part in an unlawful assembly shall be guilty of an offense and would face up to five years in jail.