“Prohibition on Group Gathering” Suppresses Public Demonstration The Union Front Persist with May Day Street Counters

In response to the police’s objection to our application to march on May 1 International Workers’ Day, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions formally appealed to the Appeals Committee today (April 29). After hearing the appeal, the committee claimed to agree with the police’s explanations and maintained the original police decision to reject our no objection notice application. We express our disappointment and regret, and reiterate that demonstrations are basic human rights and should be respected and guaranteed even under the pandemic. The authority granted by the Public Security Ordinance to the police to ban public procession is only based upon reasons that may affect public safety, order, and others freedom. Public health considerations should not be introduced as a back door. The Carrie Lam administration has allowed the police to abuse the Public Security Ordinance and Prohibition on Group Gathering to ban assemblies, suppressing the Hong Kong people’s rights to freedom of expression of Hong Kong people; effectively taking Hong Kong a big step further into authoritarian rule.

The social distancing laws were originally designed to respond to public health emergencies to maintain social distance and reduce the spread of coronavirus, but it has now become a tool for suppressing demonstrations. According to recent reports, the police often use the Prohibition on Group Gathering as an excuse to indiscriminately insult and intimidate dissidents. Even the concerned party only consists of one person, as long as he/she appears in the sight of a police dispersion, he/she will be accused of violating the gathering ban and hence and will be treated maliciously.

According to the Prohibition on Group Gathering, when more than one group gather at a given location, dispersion will be required if the distance between groups is less than 1.5 meters. The HKCTU has stated in its application that the Labour Day March will be divided into groups of no more than 4 people, while a social distance of 1.5 meter between groups will be strictly observed. According to the provisions of the current Prohibition, the march is not within the scope of prohibition and does not require dispersion. This kind of social distance procession arrangement has already taken public health issues and the right to protest into considerations, but it has still been unreasonably rejected, revealing the authorities’ intention to use the Prohibition on Group Gathering to suppress the right to protest.

The police made it clear that as long as more than 4 people gather for the same purpose, regardless of the number and distance of their groups, they can be regarded as violating the law. The original intent of the restriction order was to limit social distances and the number of people gathered, but not to examine the participants’ thoughts and motives. There is no reason to grant such authority into the hands of the police, to arbitrarily apply "common purpose" as the parameter to approve public procession application.

Under the havoc of the pandemic, all large-scale assemblies and processions were banned, and the right to expressions was denied. They also allowed those in power to do whatever they wanted: search and arrest, intimidate members of the Legislative Council, and intervene in the internal affairs of Hong Kong. While society is fighting the pandemic in solidarity, the government's political repression and persecution intensifies. Under the intimidation of the Prohibition on Group Gathering to suppress the public procession, the knives to hack our human rights and freedoms have moved one step closer.

The Prohibition can ban our procession application, but it will never constraint our resistance. The trade union front derived from the Anti-extradition Bill Movement last year will be united with other fronts to continue to fulfil our aspirations. On May 1, we will mobilize trade unions and district councilors to set up "Union Fronts, Roads of Resistance" street counters in all districts of Hong Kong, calling on all wage earners in Hong Kong to join the union to fight for "five demands, not one less" in solidarity; to resist exploitation under the pandemic; and to fight for justice during the resistance against tyranny.