HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong pro-democracy group on Sunday said the national security police stopped activists from joining a highly-anticipated protest that was canceled last minute by the organizer.
The League of Social Democrats said police questioned four of its members on Friday and warned them not to participate in the march that was planned by the Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association.
“The League of Social Democrats is very angry about being threatened and hindered by the national security police over joining a legal protest. But it has decided to be absent under such pressure,” the group said
Police said in an email response to The Associated Press that when they take any action, they handle it “in accordance to the actual situation and the law.”
The planned event would have been the first major civil rights protest in three years approved by police and the first after the lifting of major COVID-19 restrictions, including the mask mandate.
During the pandemic, major protests were rare under anti-virus controls. In addition, many activists have been silenced or jailed after China’s central government imposed a sweeping national security law following massive protests in 2019.
On Saturday night, the women’s association announced in a Facebook post that it had regrettably decided to call off the march that planned to call for labor and women’s rights, and gender equality, without specifying why. It did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
Half an hour later, Acting Senior Superintendent Dennis Cheng said in a news briefing that the organizer notified them they would cancel the march after weighing the pros and cons.
Asked if the police had told the organizer to cancel the protest to avoid embarrassing Beijing during the annual session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, Cheng said police respected the organizer’s decision and believe it had struck the balance. He refused to comment further.
Cheng said that some violent groups wanted to join the protest and warned the public against taking part. He did not identify the groups. The police letter of approval for the protest was then ruled invalid and authorities warned that anyone who attempts to assemble on Sunday would be considered to be joining an unauthorized rally.
In Beijing, meanwhile, Premier Li Keqiang said that China had made fresh progress in work related to Hong Kong and exercised overall jurisdiction over the southern city.
Critics say China has eroded freedoms promised to Hong Kong’s political, social and financial institutions at the handover from Britain in 1997.