Tensions are expected to run high in Hong Kong for the July 1 handover anniversary as a national security law mooted by Beijing stirs emotions in this polarised city.
Local media reported that the police plan to deploy between 3,000 and 4,000 officers to handle “potential conflicts” tomorrow, which marks the day Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997.
Security is expected to be tight, with a heavier police presence, road closures and traffic diversions as calls for people to march against the impending law made their rounds on social media last week.
The controversial national security law, reported to carry penalties of at least 10 years in jail for serious cases, is expected to be enacted by today, the eve of the handover anniversary. China’s top legislative body on Sunday began a three-day meeting in Beijing.
Prominent figures named by Chinese state media as “enablers of chaos in the city”, including Demosisto’s secretary-general Joshua Wong and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, have since come under the spotlight.
Local media HK01 yesterday reported that both men, who have met US representatives, could be arrested tomorrow.
Wong, who will be back in court on July 6 to face charges related to organising and participating in an unauthorised protest last June, said he had been alerted to the possibility of arrest.
He tweeted: “According to Wang Dan, one of the student leaders of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in 1989, Beijing will arrest me, Joshua Wong and the city’s pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai on Wednesday, the day after the law is put into place.”
Last week, the police rejected two applications for July 1 protests on the grounds of public health safety and the high risk of violence.
One of the applications was for an annual march by a leading opposition voice to the government, the Civil Human Rights Front. It is appealing against the police decision.
The annual march, which attracted a massive turnout in the past, usually starts from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay and ends at the government headquarters in Admiralty.
The march planned for tomorrow, therefore, would be the first large-scale protest in the city under the new law.
The authorities closed several roads on Hong Kong Island early yesterday, ahead of the usual July 1 flag-raising ceremony in Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai.
Last year, the ceremony was moved indoors for safety reasons as anti-government protesters took to the streets and clashes with the police broke out early in the day.
By nightfall, hundreds of protesters had broken into and trashed the Legislative Council (Legco) building to signal their opposition to Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s administration for mooting an extradition Bill that was later scrapped. The proposed legislation would have allowed suspects to be sent to the mainland.
The unprecedented trashing of the Legco building marred the start of Mrs Lam’s third year in office The fourth year of her five-year term starts tomorrow. Mrs Lam has the dubious distinction of having the lowest approval ratings for any Hong Kong leader since the 1997 handover.