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Hong Kong sees first protest in three years — under strict controls

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong has held its first authorized protest in three years — a demonstration against a land reclamation plan — but imposed strict rules on the participants, including requiring them to wear numbered tags and walk along a route cordoned off with police tape.

It was a sign of the control that Hong Kong’s government, which has become increasingly beholden to Beijing, is seeking to exert over a city that is supposed to enjoy a degree of autonomy from China.

At Sunday’s rally, local environmentalists and residents in the Tseung Kwan O neighborhood in the New Territories demonstrated against the construction of six facilities that they say could be intrusive and bring nuisance to the community. They held signs that read, “No to constructing a cement factory and refuse collection point!”

Organizers estimated a turnout of 80 people; police said 65. Police had put a 100-person limit on the rally.

The strictly controlled march was the first since the Hong Kong government imposed strict limits on crowds and required masks to be worn under pandemic controls.

The organizer of Sunday’s march had to ensure that participants abided by the national security law, which outlaws dissent and comes with the threat of heavy penalties.

They also had to make sure that the participants did not make political statements with their attire — such as carrying yellow umbrellas, the symbol of the pro-democracy demonstrations that brought the city to a standstill in 2019.

In an unprecedented move, participants had to wear lanyards with badges, each printed with a unique number.

Protesters were also banned from wearing face masks to ensure they would be identifiable — and therefore be more prudent in their actions. Journalists were asked to stay beyond the cordon.

Hong Kong ends mask mandate, one of the world’s last

James Ockenden, a 49-year-old British journalist who has lived in the city for two decades, joined the protest with his children. He said the rules, like the cordon tape, were absurd.

“As soon as we came to a corner, the cordon got tangled up. … It was humiliating,” Ockenden said. “It felt like being herded like sheep.”

Before the march, all placards and leaflets were scrutinized by police, said Cyrus Chan, one of the organizers and a member of the Concern Group for Tseung Kwan O People’s Livelihood.

“This is our first pilot test to show the police that Hong Kong people are capable of carrying out a peaceful protest, and that’s why we hope measures implemented in today’s protest will not be a new normal,” Chan said.

In response to the concerns of the protesters, Hong Kong’s Development Bureau stated that it will study the possibility of limiting the scale of the land reclamation and relocating some facilities elsewhere.

“We respect the right to freedom of expression. We have reached out to local residents to listen to their views through various channels,” a spokesperson said.

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.