At least three pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong are planning to file for a permit to organize a rally on July 1, the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported Friday.
July 1 is also the anniversary of the United Kingdom surrendering the city to communist China in 1997. Traditionally, human rights groups and pro-democracy advocates have used the date to organize large rallies and protests against Beijing’s growing encroachment upon “One Country, Two Systems,” the policy China agreed to in 1997 that prevents it from imposing communist laws on Hong Kong. This year, however, the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), which for years ensured the legality of rallies by filing permit paperwork, announced it would not organize a rally on July 1.
Last year, multiple senior CHRF members were arrested for organizing the rally and face prosecution under the Beijing “national security” law. Enacted in May 2020 through the communist National People’s Congress (NPC), the law commands a minimum ten-year sentence for those found guilty of enabling or engaging in “secessionism,” “terrorism,” “foreign interference,” or “subversion of state power.” “One Country, Two Systems” prohibits enforcement of the law, but Hong Kong prosecutors have charged several high-profile protest leaders with violating the law in the past year, anyway.
According to the HKFP, the League of Social Democrats, the Save Lantau Alliance and the Tin Shui Wai Connection all filed documentation on Friday to organize rallies on July 1. Police must reply with either a letter of objection, which forbids the assembly, or a letter of no objection — a permit. The heads of the three groups organized a press conference together Friday in which they emphasized the importance of continuing to show the world that the people of Hong Kong oppose communism and remain committed to keeping Beijing’s repression out of the city.
“We hope to forge a sense of unity during the July 1 march and hope that more Hongkongers will come out to deliver the message that our hearts have not died, and we will persist,” Chan Po-ying of League of Social Democrats was quoted as saying. Chan also stated she expected police to use the Chinese coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to shut down their requests for a legal rally.
Hong Kong police denied a permit to a memorial service that typically attracts thousands on June 4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Hong Kong is home to the oldest annual memorial vigil for the estimated 10,000 victims of the communist mass murder, which took place in 1989. Police claimed that the assembly was a threat to public health in light of the ongoing Chinese coronavirus pandemic and deployed 3,000 policy officers to prevent any display that could be interpreted as honoring the victims of the Communist Party.
This time, police will find using the pandemic to justify preventing an assembly more difficult as the Hong Kong government has already planned lavish celebrations on July 1 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. In addition to decorating the city’s public transportation vehicles and community centers with red propaganda, officials have a fireworks display and other festivities planned. Authorities are not requiring attendees to buy tickets for the events, which suggests they will not limit attendance.
“Festive vibes fill Hong Kong with a week away from the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and also the 24th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, which some local residents see as unprecedented,” the Chinese government newspaper Global Times claimed, “as it would also be the first time in Hong Kong to celebrate the birthday of the CPC on such an open and large scale.”
The remaining Civil Human Rights Front organizers not in police custody announced last week that they would not file for a letter of no objection to hold the July 1 rally. The group’s acting convener, Chung Chung-fai, filling in for imprisoned convener Figo Chan, lamented “there is no manpower to do anything” left in the group. Chan was sentenced to 18 months in prison in May for organizing an “unauthorized” protest during the 2019 anti-communist movement. Chung also noted police had designated the CHRF an “unregistered society,” or illegal group, rendering an attempt to apply for a permit useless.
“As far as I know, many groups will take to the streets of Hong Kong on July 1,” Chung nonetheless noted.
Last year’s July 1 rally was the first in its 23-year history for which police did not grant a permit, resulting in hundreds of arrests on site — and several subsequent arrests of organizers — and widespread use of water cannons and other repressive law enforcement devices.
“It’s worse than the worst scenario imagined. Hong Kong is totally subdued, totally under control. It’s sad that Hong Kong is dead,” Jimmy Lai, owner of the anti-communist newspaper Apple Daily, said at the time. Lai was a regular at anti-communist protests prior to his arrest last year. Hong Kong authorities moved to shut down Apple Daily completely this week, arresting its editorial staff in an office raid and freezing its assets. Apple Daily published its last Hong Kong edition Thursday.