Hong Kong has been relatively calm for the past week, with only small, often colourful demonstrations, and Sunday's march will test the strength of the pro-democracy campaign
Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners on Friday vowed to stage a major march at the weekend despite police ruling the rally illegal, setting the scene for possibly more unrest in a city battered by months of violent protests.
Hong Kong has been relatively calm for the past week, with only small, often colourful demonstrations, and Sunday's march will test the strength of the pro-democracy campaign, which has in the past rallied millions onto the streets.
In rejecting the protesters' request for a march permit, police said past events had been "hijacked by a group of radical protesters" who set fire to buildings, hurled petrol bombs at police, detonated a home-made bomb, and wrecked infrastructure.
"While we always respect citizens’ rights to assembly and freedom of speech, we are alarmed by this epidemic that radical protesters resort to violence in expressing their opinion," Acting Chief Superintendent of Police Public Relations Branch, Kong Wing-cheung, said in announcing the rejection.
Thousands have defied police in the past and staged mass rallies, often peaceful at the start but becoming violent at night.
"We will not back down even after the attack on the Civil Human Rights Front convener Jimmy Sham. Our most powerful force is the unity and resistance of this civil society," said the rights group, calling on the public to rally on Sunday.
Prominent rights activist Jimmy Sham was brutally beaten by four men wielding hammers and knives on Wednesday, a move pro-democracy lawmakers said was meant to intimidate protesters and incite violence ahead of Sunday's planned march.
Protesters on Friday night formed a human chain wearing Jimmy Sham face masks, with a banner reading: "We are all Jimmy Sham. Je Suis Jimmy Sham".
The human chain was planned to stretch a 40 km (25 miles) along the city's metro, with many people wearing humorous and eccentric masks in defiance on a ban on covering faces at public rallies. Wearing a face mask at a public rally carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail.
"I am not worried about being prosecuted because I violate the anti-mask law. I think people won’t be afraid to come out on Sunday,” said Kiki, 29, wearing a pig face mask.
Hong Kong has been hit by four months of protests, driven by concerns Beijing is eroding freedoms granted when Britain handed the city back to China in 1997.
China denies the accusation, blaming foreign nations such as the United States and Britain for inciting the unrest.
The crisis in the Chinese-ruled city is the worst since the handover and poses the biggest popular challenge to China's President Xi Jinping since he took power. Xi has warned he would crush any attempt to split China.