Concern over police abuse of public health regulations to suppress peaceful assemblies

Hong Kong – At the first public assembly related to the extradition bill protests since the Hong Kong government introduced a public health regulation under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance banning social gatherings of more than four people, the Hong Kong police uses the regulation to disperse participants of the assembly.

Today is the seventh month anniversary of the 31August incident, in which the Hong Kong police rushed into train compartments in the Prince Edward Mass Transit Railway station to indiscriminately assault passengers. Some members of the public believe or suspect that people were killed on 31 August by the police but the deaths were covered up by the Hong Kong Government. Citizens mourn outside the Prince Edward station, trying to place white flowers there.

Since 5pm, the police has repeatedly quoted the new public health regulation to ask citizens to leave the area. The police also cleared the flowers placed outside Prince Edward station and cordoned off that area. At 8pm, the police is reported to have stopped at least 20 citizens, including first-aiders, in Prince Edward, citing the public health regulation. At 10pm, the police also warned citizens on the street that they will be arrested “when there are five or more”, without quoting any legislation or regulation. At 11pm, the police stopped and searched at least one first-aider citing this public health regulation.

It is also observed that many more police officers are deployed, compared with the previous monthly assemblies about the 31 August incident.

“The public has the right to hold and participate in peaceful mourning and memorial events in a public place about the 31 August incident. Even though the police understands or assesses the incident differently, they have to protect the public’s freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Spokespersons Icarus Wong and Andrew Shum.

“The Court of Final Appeal has held that the Government has a positive duty to facilitate peaceful assemblies. However, the Hong Kong police has not attempted at all to facilitate the peaceful assembly today; they dispersed participants without considering whether they were in groups of more than four apparently. The abuse of public health regulations to suppress expression and peaceful assemblies will only lead to greater public mistrust of the Government,” continued Wong and Shum.

Notes to the editor: The public health regulation does not exempt public assemblies. The Court of Final Appeal ruling mentioned above can be found in Leung Kwok Hung v HKSAR (2005) 8 HKCFAR 229.



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