Protesters marched through central Hong Kong on Sunday in one of the city’s major annual pro-democracy rallies as organisers said the event was coming under unprecedented pressure from mainland China.
This comes amid clamour for independence from China as Beijing becomes increasingly intolerant of signs of dissent in the semi-autonomous region.
Hong Kong has rights unseen on the mainland, including freedom of expression, but there are concerns those liberties are now under threat from a repressive Beijing and a loyalist local government.
Ahead of this year’s march — which takes place on the anniversary of the city’s return to China by colonial power Britain in 1997 — police rejected a number of starting points suggested by organisers.
“This year is a turning point in which (authorities) have used different ways to mobilise their power to suppress the rally,” Sammy Ip, from the Civil Human Rights Front which organises the march, told AFP.
Pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao called for the march to be outlawed in an editorial last month, and Ip said the democracy movement was at a low ebb and was now being “hounded” by the government.
The march set off from a grass area at one side of the park and culminated at the government’s headquarters, with protesters chanting: “End one-party dictatorship! Reject the deterioration of Hong Kong!”
Some wore masks of the city’s leader Carrie Lam with long rubber Pinocchio-style noses attached.
Social worker Iris Wong, 26, told AFP she was worried about Hong Kong’s freedoms being curtailed.
“The government isn’t working for the people and a lot of Hong Kong people are suffering,” she said.
Since the 2014 Umbrella Movement, leading pro-democracy activists have been prosecuted on protest related charges.
Pro-democracy and pro-independence activists have also been barred from standing for office in Hong Kong’s partially elected system, or ejected from seats they had won through a public vote.
Other rights groups also joined the march, including LGBT campaigners as well as protesters calling for better living conditions and equality in the densely packed city, which has an ever-widening wealth gap.