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Environmental protesters rally against illegal concrete plant in Hong Kong amid heavy police presence

Oct 30, 2023

Hong Kong saw one of its first protests since Covid-19 restrictions were eased, as a group of environmental activists protested against the illegal operation of a concrete plant in Yau Tong on Saturday.

A group of fewer than 10 protesters, including rally organiser James Ockenden and Patrick Fung, CEO of Clean Air Network, marched from Yau Tong Fire Station to China Concrete Company's plant on Saturday.

China Concrete Company's application for a licence renewal was denied by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) in January last year. The High Court also rejected a legal bid from the company to challenge the government's decision last month.

The company was refused a licence renewal due to its failure to limit air pollution from the plant, according to the EPD in January 2022.

Despite the licence renewal refusal and the failed legal bid, the plant on 22 Tung Yuen Street, Yau Tong continued to operate.

Ockenden and his group demanded the government shut the plant down. The organiser said that the administration should pay more than one visit to the premises.

"EPD, [Food and Environmental Hygiene Department], Labour [Department], and the police should be down here every day, this isn't something they should just look at once and then leave, and then prosecute six months later…," said Ockenden.

"They should be down here every day, they should be collecting evidence."

Apart from air pollution that affected nearby residents, Fung also raised concerns over the rights of workers at the plant.

"If there are any accidents in [the plant], or if workers developed lung or respiratory illness because of their long-term contact with polluted air, how should those be dealt with? It is still now a grey area," Fung said.

Ockenden and Fung's protest on Saturday was one of the city's first marches after Covid-19 social distancing rules were gradually relaxed in the latter half of 2022. A dozen police officers in uniform and plain clothes followed the group during the march, with an officer recording the rally with a handheld video camera.

With a group of fewer than 30 people, the organisers were not required to obtain police approval – a letter of no objection – prior to the rally.

However, Ockenden said it was his intention to host the city's first protest with a letter of no objection in three years, but he was told by the police on Monday that it was too late and there was not a sufficient notice period.

"… it's great if we can start protesting again, and get the city's social movements back again," he said.

An Environmental Protection Department spokesman said on Saturday that it had been closely monitoring the plant: "We have been following up with the Department of Justice on working to schedule the case as soon as possible to obtain a final injunction, so as to stop the operation of the CBP at 22 Tung Yuen Street."

"We strongly condemn the CBP of the China Concrete Co. Limited to continue its operation after the application of renewal of license had been refused. We will take follow-up actions against all irregularities in a serious manner. Meanwhile, the department is also taking stringent enforcement actions by collecting and compiling evidence for a number of cases to initiate further prosecution actions."

Protests and rallies in the city became a rare sight during the Covid-19 pandemic and after the implementation of the national security law.

Hong Kong maintained one of the world's strictest Covid-19 social distancing regimes and, at one point, limited the amount of people allowed to gather in public to two. A number of public figures, including former pro-democracy lawmakers, have been charged with violating pandemic rules for holding protests.

Hong Kong's security chief Chris Tang said that no protest rallies were approved in the past three years due to "health concerns," even though the High Court ruled that the police did not fulfil their duty to consider whether there were other feasible measures that would have allowed or facilitated the gathering when they banned the 2021 Tiananmen vigil.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.

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