Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association to stage march following police ‘verbal’ approval

A women’s rights group in Hong Kong is set to stage a march ahead of next Wednesday’s International Women’s Day, after the organiser said it had secured “verbal” approval from the police.

The Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association said on Thursday that police had approved their application to organise a demonstration on Sunday to promote labour rights, women’s rights and gender equality.

Wu Mei-lin, executive director of the Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association in a press conference on March 2, 2023. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The group first announced on Facebook that it had obtained a letter of no objection from police for the march, but its executive director Wu Mei-lin clarified in a separate press conference that the force only gave the group the nod “verbally.”

“Actually today, I still [did] not get the paper. But every day we called the police… and verbally they said it’s okay,” she said.

HKFP has reached out to the police for comment and confirmation.

The march on Sunday would be one of the first of its type authorised by the police since large-scale protests in Hong Kong ebbed in early 2020, when the city was first hit by Covid-19.

Police had cited the Covid-19 gathering limit in banning demonstrations and rallies over the past three years, including the annual vigil at Victoria Park to remember victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

A banner warning against group gatherings. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP

The force has given the green light to 13 public processions and gatherings since the restriction on gatherings was scrapped in late December, Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu said on Commercial Radio last month.

According to the police calendar, the events approved included Lunar New Year celebrations, charity walks organised by schools, fundraising activities for a church, and a residents’ consultation for the Tung Chung MTR line extension.

Wu said her group had informed the police the expected turnout would be 100. Participants will march from Southorn Playground in Wan Chai to the government headquarters in Admiralty, starting at 11 am.

The organiser has yet to confirm whether there will be any special conditions imposed on the event.

Hong Kong police emblem. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Asked why the group decided to organise a march on Sunday, Wu said the association had in the past held demonstrations around International Women’s Day, which falls on next Wednesday this year. But their activities in the last few years were restricted by the Covid-19 pandemic and anti-epidemic rules, including the public gathering limit.

The global day celebrating the achievements of women would be a good opportunity for the association to draw attention to matters related to workers and migrants and other human rights issues, Wu added.

The association had been part of the Civil Human Rights Front, which had organised some of the largest pro-democracy demonstrations and rallies in Hong Kong’s history. But the group left the coalition before it was disbanded in August 2021 citing “unprecedented challenges.”

Mask ban

Hong Kong axed a Covid-19 mask mandate on Wednesday, more than 2.5 years after it came into force. But an earlier prohibition on face coverings during marches, which was introduced at the height of the citywide protests, is still in force.

The mask ban was enacted by then-chief executive Carrie Lam in October 2019, who invoked her emergency powers in a bid to bar protesters from hiding their identities.

The first day without mask mandate in Hong Kong. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The regulation states that the ban only applies to regulated assemblies, public meetings and public processions, while people may wear a mask when sick. Those who fail to comply would face a maximum fine of HK$25,000 and imprisonment for one year.

Asked whether the government would drop the mask ban too, Chief Executive John Lee said on Wednesday that the mask ban and the mask mandate were “two different homes.”

“The mask mandate was for public health matters. As for the mask ban, we will review it at a suitable time. At this moment, we will not handle it,” he said.

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