Hong Kong activists have slammed the government for its “ridiculous” policies after it prevented them from using Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park football pitches for their annual July 1 pro-democracy march.
The Civil Human Rights Front, organisers of the annual rally, expressed “extreme dissatisfaction” with the government’s decision in a statement released Thursday.
The group traditionally used the pitches as the starting point for the march, but the government refused its request for the first time last year, giving the space instead to the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Celebrations Association.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) said the Association, which held a technology exhibition celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Handover, had priority to use the space because it is a charity.
Last month, the LCSD had made the same decision to grant the use of the pitches to the Association, even though the Front submitted its application before the Association.
The Front said the LCSD’s reason for prioritising the Association based on its charitable status did not stand up to scrutiny.
“The fact that a group that organises Handover celebrations is deemed having charitable elements is ridiculous,” it said, adding that it would never be treated equally as political groups cannot attain charitable status in Hong Kong.
For last year’s march, the Front applied to use the football pitches on April 3, but the Association made an application on March 15. This year, the Front applied to all relevant government agencies for access to the protest venues more than six months in advance.
But the group was told this year that the LCSD only reviews applications of events planned for a certain month together after their deadlines, meaning that applicants do not get priority even if they submit their requests earlier.
The group also criticised the police for poor communication with the organisers. It said it had applied for the required letter of no objection from the force to hold the rally, but the police have yet to reply or even ask to meet with the organisers.
Last year, the Front appealed the government’s decision to reject its application through the Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions. It claimed that the attitude of the police representative was arrogant and that the “entire process was extremely insulting.”
The group said it would not “submit to humiliation” this year and would fight for access to another location in Causeway Bay as the rally’s starting point. It is currently considering East Point Road.
“Freedom of assembly is a right guaranteed by the Basic Law,” the Front said. “The pro-establishment camp will bear responsibility for any problems caused by the denial of rallygoers’ access to the football pitches.”
The Front’s convener Sammy Ip questioned whether the Association’s application to use the pitches on July 1 was politically motivated.
The Association’s chair Cheng Yiu-tong, who is also the chairman of the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Union and a member of the Executive Council, said Thursday that the Association needs the space of all six football pitches on July 1 and cannot coordinate with the Front.
Established in 2006, the Hong Kong Celebrations Association regularly holds carnivals, banquets and other forms of celebratory activity during important occasions such as July 1 or New Year’s Day. The phone number listed on their website is the same as the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions.