HONG KONG, July 1 (Reuters) – Hong Kong on Thursday deployed a heavy police presence in the streets to prevent protests on the anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule, as its interim leader said a national security law had restored order to towns after “chaos”.
In many districts there was a palpable security presence, with police vans, water cannon trucks, armored vehicles and police units patrolling.
Parts of Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island – where the annual march normally begins – have been closed to prevent any processions or public meetings from taking place.
In the morning, Hong Kong Acting Chief John Lee said in a speech that the authorities “will continue to take a strong stand to protect national security.”
“Hong Kong absolutely has the conditions to bounce back.”
Beijing imposed the security law just before midnight on June 30 last year to punish anything China considers subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces until the life imprisonment.
The security law was Beijing’s first major step in putting the global financial center on an authoritarian path, launching a campaign dubbed “Patriots rule Hong Kong,” which included measures to reduce democratic representation in the world. ‘Legislative Assembly of the city and various filtering mechanisms for politicians.
Lee was speaking for the first time as interim city leader 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 Officer Carrie Lam and other senior officials have been invited to Beijing for the holiday celebrations. Lee was named No.2 last week after playing a key role in the city’s crackdown over the past year as security secretary.
Critics of the government say it used the Security Act to crush dissent in the former British colony.
“On July 1, I am nothing more than one of tens of thousands of Hong Kongers who want to make their voices heard,” tweeted pro-democracy activist and lawyer Chow Hang-tung, who was once again arrested the day before the sensitive birthday.
“They want to kill the monkey to scare the chicken, so we have to let them know that the Hong Kong people will not give up.”
Officials in Beijing and Hong Kong say the new law closed national security “loopholes” exposed by anti-government protests in 2019.
So far, under the law, described as a “birthday present” by senior Chinese official Zhang Xiaoming when it was introduced last year, authorities have arrested 117 people, most of them Democratic politicians, activists, journalists and students.
Beijing said it was necessary after the mass pro-democracy and anti-China protests in 2019 that were described as acts endangering national security. Many protesters, however, say they demanded that Beijing respect constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.
Usually on July 1, tens of thousands of people take to the streets of Hong Kong to protest everything from Beijing’s maneuvers in the city to unaffordable housing.
The tradition, which distinguishes the semi-autonomous city from tightly controlled mainland China, is unlikely to be followed by many this year after police denied permission for a rally, citing restrictions on coronaviruses. .
“It is clear that under the NSL (National Security Law), over a year, this has a chilling effect on Hong Kongers … fewer people would have the confidence to go to the streets to express themselves”, Raphael said. Wong, a League of Social Democrats activist who staged a protest with three other people in the morning that was surrounded by dozens of police.
They held up a yellow banner calling on the authorities to “release all political prisoners”.
Reporting by Sara Cheng, James Pomfret and Anne Marie Roantree in HONG KONG; Editing by Stephen Coates and Shri Navaratnam
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