This month, two young men stood outside a high-end Hong Kong shopping mall, clutching bouquets of white flowers as they held a memorial for a protester who had died nearby last year. The event, like any marking the milestones or memories of the prodemocracy movement, drew police attention; more than a dozen gathered to keep watch, one holding a video camera to record the events. When a passerby stopped to join the pair, police stepped in. The city’s social-distancing regulations stipulate that gatherings must be limited to two people, so the officers surrounded the mourners to question them before handing them tickets for breaking the rules.
Just one day earlier, a humid Friday evening, an after-work crowd had gathered in a trendy district of the city, lining the street for happy-hour drinks, unbothered by police. Some congregated outside a corner 7-Eleven to buy cans of beer, with images showing groups well above the allowed number.
The double standard was not a one-off. When Roy Tam and a group of fellow prodemocracy district councilors organized a media event to criticize the Hong Kong government’s pandemic testing plan last week, they took precautions to make sure they were not breaking the rules. The group wore masks, stood in groups of two, and distanced themselves from one another in front of a sports center that the government is converting into a testing center. Those efforts, and the fact that they were elected officials, didn’t satisfy the police. Officers quickly converged on the group, cordoned off with bright-orange tape the small gaggle of media that had come to cover the event, and began doling out fines. Tam wasn’t surprised. Since regulations were introduced this year, they have been “more strict for the prodemocracy protesters,” he told me. Another prodemocracy politician was recently fined while handing out free masks to city residents. “They are using this law politically to suppress the freedom of assembly in Hong Kong,” Tam said.