July 19, 1997 in Nation/World

Hong Kong Police Get Power To Limit Protests

Boston Globe

Hong Kong’s new government Friday gave police discretionary powers to prevent or break up demonstrations and meetings on the grounds of “national security,” provoking an outcry from civil rights advocates and legal specialists.

The new guidelines allow the police commissioner and other top officers to refuse permission for a protest if it is deemed to threaten the “territorial integrity” of China - by advocating independence for Taiwan or Tibet, for example.

The police may also consider, “among other things,” whether an act is likely to cause an imminent breach of peace.

The new guidelines elaborate on stricter public protest laws enacted July 1, when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule.

A spokeswoman for Democratic Party leader Martin Lee denounced the new rules as “totally unnecessary restrictions on the previous right to demonstrate.”

The spokeswoman also objected to the rule that police will be asked to consider national security and breach of peace, “among other things” when banning demonstrations. “That type of ambiguity leaves open the opportunity for restrictions on basic rights and freedoms that are totally unnecessary in a free society,” she said.

Police officials, for their part, are not uniformly happy about banning demonstrations.

Top officials had testified before the old Legislature that there was no need for guidelines restricting demonstrations, and five officers tried to turn in their badges recently to protest new laws they would have to enforce that curtailed the right to protest.

Even Friday, police director of operations Benny Ng said the new guidelines do not force police to break up marches advocating independence if they are peaceful.

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