Dozens of protesters returned to Hong Kong streets on Sunday, in one of the the first authorized rallies since Beijing enacted a national security law in the midst of the pandemic in 2020 which facilitated a crackdown on civil disobedience.
Demonstrators gathered in the eastern Tseung Kwan O district, protesting against a proposed land reclamation and garbage processing project.
Protesters carried security-approved banners and chanted slogans that would not qualify as "seditious" displays or speech. The city's police had granted the protesters permission to assemble on condition that they do not violate the national security law.
How do the protesters see the new restrictions?
The protest authorization restricted the protesters to 100 participants. Around 50 were on the streets on Sunday. Many welcomed the return to activism, but criticized the strict measures imposed on the march.
"We need to have a more free-spirited protest culture," James Ockenden, a protester marching with his three children, told the Reuters news agency. "But this is all pre-arranged and numbered and it just destroys the culture and will put people off from coming for sure."
Other restrictions involved making participants wear numbered badges around their necks.
The police said in its letter to the organizers that it was important to identify the protesters, to prevent any "lawbreakers" from infiltrating the march.
Masks were also banned, unless protesters could come up with a "reasonable excuse."
During Hong Kong's 2019 anti-government movement, the government also banned masks from public gatherings.
Why was today's protest highly anticipated?
Sunday's protest is the first to be authorized since strict COVID-19 restrictions were lifted earlier this year.
Protests were rare throughout the three years of the pandemic. In parallel, activism was silenced, with several activists jailed since the 2019 protest movement and subsequent 2020 national security law.
Many fear Hong Kong's once vibrant civil movement scene has now been eroded.
All eyes are on June 4 and July 1, when major demonstrations would historically take place in Hong Kong to mark the anniversaries of the Tiananmen protests and the British handover of the city to Beijing, respectively.
Authorities denied an application for a candlelight vigil to commemorate the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, Reuters said, on grounds of COVID social distancing.