Dozens of people on Sunday joined Hong Kong's first authorized protest since the lifting of major COVID-19 restrictions under unprecedentedly strict rules, including wearing a numbered badge around their necks. The rules set out by the police, who cited security reasons, came as the financial hub was promoting its return to normalcy after years of anti-virus controls and political turmoil. During the pandemic, protests were rare due to COVID-19 restrictions. In addition, many activists were silenced or jailed after Beijing imposed a national security law following massive protests in 2019. Critics say the city's freedom of assembly that was promised Hong Kong when it returned to China from Britain in 1997 has been eroded.
Sunday’s demonstration against the proposed reclamation and construction of rubbish-processing facilities was the first police-approved march of its kind after the city scrapped its mask mandate and social distancing limits, the AP reports. But organizers had to comply with police requirements such as taking measures to ensure the number of participants would not exceed the expected turnout of 100 people and asking for proof of a "reasonable excuse" from protesters who wore masks during the event. At the height of the 2019 anti-government movement, Hong Kong’s government invoked emergency powers to ban masks from public gatherings so it could identify protesters accused of illegal acts.
On Sunday, about 80 people expressed their opposition to the plans in Tseung Kwan O, a residential and industrial area, the organizer said. They had to walk in a cordoned-off moving line in the rain amid heavy police presence. Protester Jack Wong said he would prefer not to wear the badge printed with a number. Police said earlier the requirement aims to prevent lawbreakers from joining the march. "But if it is a requirement, what can I say? I prefer not to comment further. You know what I mean," he said. In granting approval, police also requested that organizers ensure there would not be any acts that might endanger national security, including displaying anything deemed seditious. (Read more Hong Kong stories.)