Hong Kong is set for a tense day as the controversial national anthem law comes up for its second reading in Legco on Wednesday, as several unions as well as students called for a general strike and online forums buzzed with chatter about mass protests.
The police have set up barricades all across the area and on some roads leading to the Legco complex. Riot police officers have been patrolling the area for more than a couple of days now.
Online forums have been buzzing with talk about a mass protest like the one that occurred on June 12 last year when lawmakers were to discuss the controversial extradition bill. Tens of thousands surrounded the area, forcing the suspension of all activities inside the Legco.
Some online groups have also been circulating messages urging motorists to create traffic chaos at the harbour tunnels by driving slowly.
A students' groups involving Demosisto leader Isaac Cheng, called Secondary School Students' Action Platform, has issued a call for a strike as more secondary three to five pupils are due to return to class on Wednesday.
In a joint statement, more than 30 unions from different sectors called for a general strike to protest against the bill.
Police are not taking any chances this time around and have tightened access to the roads leading to the Legco building to prevent a repeat of last year’s events.
In a statement late on Tuesday, they warned that illegally blocking roads would hinder emergency services, and might put people's lives at risk.
They added that taking part in an unauthorised assembly carried a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.
Inside Legco there seems to be very little room for opponents of the bill to manoeuvre, say academics, as the opposition lost control of the agenda-setting House Committee earlier this month.
Pro-democracy councillors have delayed the passage of the highly controversial bill by holding up the election of the House Committee chairperson for over seven months.
But with the pro-establishment camp eventually regaining control of the committee earlier this month, the national anthem law was immediately put back on the agenda.
According to a Legco document, council president Andrew Leung has set aside four days, or a total of 30 hours for deliberations.
The bill is now expected to be put to a vote on June 4 – a day when huge crowds traditionally take part in a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park to remember the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
But restrictions imposed by the government over the coronavirus outbreak have been extended to that day, putting an end to the annual vigil that has been held for three decades.
Under the proposed national anthem bill, anyone convicted of misusing or insulting "March of the Volunteers" could face a fine of up to HK$50,000 and three years in jail.
While critics say the law will erode freedom of expression and the vague definition of insults will be misused by police, those in the pro-Beijing camp say the law is badly needed to make sure Hong Kong people respect the national anthem.
Last updated: 2020-05-26 HKT 22:10