An International Women’s Day march scheduled this Sunday will be the first officially authorized protest in Hong Kong since 2020. The Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association announced on Thursday that it had received a verbal approval for a “notice of no objection” regarding the march.
However, the event will take place against the backdrop of an escalating crackdown on human rights and civil society in general, Amnesty International said.
“A first authorized protest since the emergence of Covid-19 three years ago is a significant moment for Hong Kong, but Sunday’s planned march will take place as the government intensifies its wider crackdown on human rights in the city,” said Hana Young, Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director.
“Since mass protests in 2019, the Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly and aggressively curtailed the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly with unlawful force and vague legislation.
“Sunday’s demonstration should be allowed to take place without interference from the police – a right that has rarely been afforded to peaceful protesters in Hong Kong in recent times, and certainly not since the introduction of the repressive National Security Law.
“Authorities also need to continue to facilitate other types of peaceful protests, or else allowing this march will merely be a token gesture.”
Hong Kong’s once-vibrant civil society has been decimated since a National Security Law was imposed by the Chinese central government on 30 June 2020, with scores of activists and opposition politicians facing potential life imprisonment for their legitimate activities.
In December 2022, the Hong Kong High Court found that the blanket ban on the 2021 vigil was excessive, as police had not seriously considered allowing a gathering with appropriate health measures and other conditions.
Meanwhile, numerous civil society groups – including groups who had previously organized large-scale peaceful protests, often in cooperation with police and other government authorities – have been forced to disband, with many members facing charges under the national security law and a colonial-era sedition act.
Repression of the right to peaceful assembly significantly worsened following the protests in 2019 and intensified under Covid-19 emergency measures. The Hong Kong government invoked the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance and announced public health emergency laws in response to Covid-19 that virtually banned all peaceful protests.
The UN has long expressed concern about the Hong Kong government imposing excessive restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. According to Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance, those wishing to organize a protest are required to obtain “a notice of no objection” from the police before an assembly may proceed. Rules and policies that in effect require official permission to be granted for public assemblies to take place violate international human rights law and standards.