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LCQ6: Public meetings and processions

     Following is a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, to a question by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung in the Legislative Council today (July 17):


     The organiser of the march on July 1 of this year estimated that the number of participants was 430,000, whereas the figure estimated by the Police was 66,000. Quite a number of people who participated in the march have complained to me, expressing dissatisfaction with the Police's under-estimation of the figure allegedly with the intent to mislead the public and the Central Government, as well as to play down the demands made by the people during the march (including the demand for the incumbent Chief Executive to step down). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it has heard the demand made by the people during the march for the Chief Executive to step down; if it has, whether it will follow up; whether the authorities have assessed the number of people taking to the street which will make such a demand realised;  

(b) of the number of police officers deployed by the Police on the day of the July 1 march to count the number of participants, how the counting was conducted, and how the number of participants was arrived at (including whether only those participants setting off from the Victoria Park had been counted); whether the participants who joined the march midway had been counted; if so, of the respective numbers of participants who joined the march in Tin Hau, Causeway Bay, Wan Chai, Admiralty and Central, and the boundary lines for each of these districts; and

(c) whether the current training for police officers includes the counting of the number of participants in marches; of the rank of the police officer who decides to release to the media the number of participants in a march as estimated by the Police, and the legislation based on which such a number is released; whether the authorities have a mechanism in place to impose severe punishment on police officers for releasing to the media a wrong estimate of the number of participants in a march?


     Hong Kong residents enjoy the rights of assembly, procession and demonstration according to the Basic Law and other relevant laws. The Police always handle public meetings, demonstrations and processions in a fair, just and impartial manner in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong. It is the operational policy of Police to strike a balance by facilitating all lawful and peaceful public meetings and processions on one hand and on the other hand minimising the impact of public meetings and processions on other members of public or road users, and to ensure public safety and public order.

     Any person who plans to organise a public meeting or procession with the number of participants exceeding the limit prescribed in the Public Order Ordinance, i.e. public meetings of more than 50 persons and public processions of more than 30 persons, shall give a notice to the Commissioner of Police (CP) not less than seven days prior to the intended event, and it can only be conducted if CP does not prohibit or object to it. The notification shall cover such basic information as the date of the public meeting or procession, time of commencement and duration, location or route, theme, as well as the estimated number of participants, etc. CP may impose condition(s) on a notified public meeting or procession to ensure order of the event and public safety, and the corresponding condition(s) imposed will be stated explicitly in the "letter of no objection" issued to the organisers.  Organisers may appeal to the statutory Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions if they consider CP's decision unreasonable.

     My reply to the Hon Leung's question is as follows:

(a) The SAR Government respects the lawful rights of the public to processions and expression of views and will take heed of their demands in a humble manner. Regardless of the number of participants in the procession, the Government will listen carefully and respond proactively to their various aspirations. The current SAR Government will continue to work hard and unite as a team. On the basis of various tasks commenced in the past year, the SAR Government will strive to respond to people's aspirations, react to and tackle conflicts and problems in society.

(b) and (c) Generally speaking, upon receipt of notifications of public meetings or processions, the Police will take a proactive approach in maintaining close communication with the event organisers to offer advice and assistance. The Police will make reference to the number of participants and information provided by organisers, past experience in handling similar events as well as other operational considerations when assessing the management measures required for the crowd, traffic and public transport services and manpower deployment, with a view to maintaining public safety and public order during the events. In addition, the Police will also draw up contingency plans to cope with any unexpected situations that may arise, e.g. when the number of participants is higher than expected, in order to ensure that public events are held in a peaceful and orderly manner.

     In the course of public meetings and processions, the Police will assess the number of participants for the implementation of appropriate crowd management measures and contingency measures for traffic and public transport services, as well as for the deployment of manpower in a flexible manner. The figure concerned is for internal reference only; it is solely for the effective deployment of manpower and the implementation of crowd safety management and traffic management measures to ensure public safety and public order. It has been the Police's practice not to take the initiative to announce the estimated figure unless otherwise enquired by individual media organisations.

     During a procession, the Police will set up observation points along the procession route. The number of participants passing by the observation points will be estimated. With reference also to the duration of the procession, an estimate of participants at the peak period will be made. The Police will not specifically make an estimate on the participants who have joined or left the march midway. As a general arrangement, the most senior police officer in charge of an operation of crowd management is responsible for verifying the total number of participants of the event. We have to stress that the figure from the Police is not derived from an academic statistical method. The estimate of the number of participants mainly serves to facilitate the Police's formulation of corresponding crowd safety management measures to ensure public order and public safety.

     It comes to our attention that independent academic institutions in Hong Kong have been counting the number of participants in large-scale processions over the years and have been providing detailed explanations on their counting methods. Regarding the procession on July 1 this year, the number of participants counted by an academic institution on that day was 66,927, which was very close to 66,000, the approximate figure estimated by the Police at the peak period of the procession. To include in the estimate the number of participants who joined or left the march midway, the institution has multiplied the head count obtained on the day of procession by a parameter, resulting in an adjustment estimation of total participants in the range of 88,000 to 98,000. Separately, another academic institution estimated the total number of participants to be 103,000.

     Although the figure estimated by the Police was not derived from an academic statistical method, it was very close to the figures of various academic institutions in terms of head count. The allegation made by some that the Police deliberately released a lower number of participants in the procession to mislead the public is absolutely groundless and absurd. I have to reiterate that Hong Kong is a society under the rule of law, and the Police have the responsibility to maintain law and order. In performing their duties, the Police will take enforcement action in a fair, just and impartial manner, and there is absolutely no political consideration involved.

Ends/Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Issued at HKT 16:26


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