Protesters are planning mass action for Wednesday to disrupt a debate on the controversial national anthem bill in Hong Kong’s legislature and bring city traffic to a standstill, while students from dozens of schools say they intend to boycott classes.
Bracing for a large turnout at the Legislative Council, police on Tuesday morning blocked some of the main roads near the Legco complex, including Legislative Council Road, and erected additional water-filled barriers to fence it off, with officers only allowing authorised vehicles to enter.
Police sources said 3,000 riot officers would be on standby to deal with any flare-ups and assist lawmakers attempting to enter Legco if roads were occupied by demonstrators.
Legislators are being asked to gather at a pickup point, where traffic police officers will then transport them to the building in the event roads are blocked.
With security strengthened, calls made online throughout the day for demonstrators to descend on the legislature from 11pm on Tuesday failed to materialise.
A year ago, when anti-government protests erupted on June 12, tens of thousands of protesters rallied outside Legco to halt a second reading of the now-withdrawn extradition bill, preventing some pro-government lawmakers from getting inside the building despite police’s help.
The second reading of the national anthem bill is set to resume at Legco on Wednesday afternoon amid growing anger at Beijing’s recently announced plan to impose a national security law on the city.
Under the anthem bill, anyone who misuses or insults March of the Volunteers faces up to three years in prison and fines as high as HK$50,000 (US$6,450).
The bill also covers local schools. Under the bill, the Secretary for Education will be required to issue directions to schools regarding the anthem, but no punishment has been specified for teachers and principals who fail to comply.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung on Tuesday warned against non-cooperative movements at schools that would “jeopardise pupils’ benefits”, while also appealing to pupils not to join any illegal activities outside school.
“Political groups should not bring politics onto campuses and hinder the class resumption process,” Yeung wrote on his social media page.
“Class strikes and activities such as human chains and chanting slogans should not be organised, [because they] could pressurise and affect the emotions and learning progress of other students.”
In a statement on Tuesday night, police condemned those also calling for motorists to paralyse traffic on Wednesday morning to coincide with the planned siege of the legislature.
“Blocking roads illegally not only harms road safety … It will obstruct emergency aid services,” the force said while warning it would make arrests and tow away vehicles.
As of 9pm on Tuesday, dozens of police in riot gear and Special Tactical Squad uniforms were patrolling footbridges and roads outside Legco. At least six police vehicles were parked in the area. Police had also shut down Lung Wui Road, which sits next to the legislature.
Police chief Chris Tang Ping-keung visited officers stationed near Legco shortly before 11.30pm.
“I've come to cheer frontline colleagues up,” the police commissioner said, adding that appropriate arrangements were in place for possible protests on Wednesday.
By midnight, no protesters had showed up in Admiralty. Many users on LIHKG, a Reddit-like forum popular with protesters, warned heading to the area would only lead to arrest
But LIHKG posts calling for a citywide strike on Wednesday had gained momentum, with some hoping to bring the city to a standstill in similar fashion to last year’s extradition bill protests.
But one netizen responded: “All comrades should gather in Admiralty instead. Our primary goal is to block the bill. Only a very large turnout can achieve this!”
Others called for people to paralyse major roads and MTR stations across the city before 7am on Wednesday, with the aim of “diluting police manpower in Admiralty”, where the Legco building and government headquarters are located.
On the Telegram messaging app, motorists were being encouraged to stage a slow-drive protest along major roads on Hong Kong Island and the three cross-harbour tunnels to create traffic jams and delay police reinforcement efforts.
But some LIHKG users were discussing whether people should continue to take to the streets given the risk of arrest.
The rally was expected to be joined by student concern groups from dozens of schools that have called for their peers to stage sit-ins and class boycotts on Wednesday morning to protest against the national security and anthem laws.
Classes are set to resume tomorrow after a four-month suspension amid the coronavirus pandemic, with about 150,000 senior secondary pupils being the first scheduled to return to campus.
Pro-democracy and localist student groups Secondary School Students Action Platform and Studentlocalism on Tuesday called for students to strike on Wednesday, with groups at more than 15 secondary schools across the city having jointly signed a petition by the afternoon.
Students from at least 10 secondary schools in Sha Tin, including Lam Tai Fai College, Sha Tin Methodist College and Helen Liang Memorial Secondary School, were among those urging classmates to skip classes and rally outside Legco.
“The bill requires schools to incorporate relevant teachings into primary and secondary education … meaning pupils will be brainwashed,” the students wrote in the statement.
Sporadic protests against the draft national security law broke out on Tuesday, with dozens of office workers gathering at Landmark, a luxury mall in Central, to sing protest songs during their lunch hour and call on passers-by to join Wednesday’s strike.
Gladys, a 40-year-old finance worker who worked nearby, said she had lost faith in Beijing’s commitment in “one country, two systems”, the principle under which Hong Kong and Macau are ruled.
“I am very angry and I know if I don’t come out today, there will be no chance to come out later on,” she said.
Although police vans could be seen on the street outside the mall, the protest remained peaceful and ended within an hour.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s authorities have upheld a police ban of a march planned for Sunday to mark the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, forcing the organisers to drop the annual commemorative event for the first time.
In a unanimous decision, the Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions dismissed the bid by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, citing public health grounds with social-gathering restrictions for Covid-19 still in place.
Alliance secretary Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, speaking after the 2½-hour appeal hearing on Tuesday, said it would have to abandon the plans for Sunday’s march, which was to take the route from Southorn Playground in Wan Chai to Beijing’s liaison office in Western district.
“It will be the first time there is no June 4 march. We will set up booths on streets to tell the public the truths of the 1989 crackdown. But we will definitely not give up the June 4 vigil in Victoria Park,” Tsoi said.
The alliance is expected to meet police on Thursday to discuss its plans for the vigil itself, when the existing public-gathering restrictions are still in force.
Additional reporting by Clifford Lo and Ng Kang-chung
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This article Hong Kong protests: mass action planned for Wednesday as city braces for anthem bill debate at Legco first appeared on South China Morning Post