Gay rights activist challenges ban on dancing at protest

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2012, 12:00am


A gay rights protester who was among a group stopped from dancing during a rally last year because police said they needed a licence to provide 'entertainment' took the case to court yesterday.

Lawyers for the judicial review applicant, identified only as T, argued that the demonstration, even in the form of dancing, would never amount to entertainment, as it was clear that dominant purpose was the promotion of social justice.

Gerard McCoy SC, for T, said in the Court of First Instance that the police action was a 'massive inhibitor' to the protesters' right to freedom of expression, 'a right that the government must facilitate'.

But Johnny Mok SC, for the police, said that the dancing was entertainment and the fact that it was being performed on a stage also meant the structural safety of the stage would have to be checked.

The rally to mark the International Day Against Homophobia was held in Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay, on May 15 last year.

It involved members of Amnesty International and an alliance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex groups. It was attended by Equal Opportunities Commission chairman Lam Woon-kwong, lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan and about 100 other people.

A section of the rally involved dancing and artistic expression, in which about 18 volunteers took part.

Police stopped the performance after five minutes because organisers had not obtained a licence under the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance.

Under the ordinance, any person who wants to organise any entertainment in a public space must apply for a licence six weeks in advance.

The performance was followed by a story-telling session which police did not stop.

Yesterday McCoy told the court that the rally was a 'deliberate quest for social justice'. The requirement for an entertainment licence - and written notification to police a week before the demonstration - amounted to a restriction on freedom of expression and assembly.

'Police maintained that two regimes have to be met. This is overbearing and there is no necessity,' McCoy said.

To Mok's contention that the use of the stage required safety checks, McCoy said police could have imposed a condition that the rally be held without putting up a stage.

He also argued that the rally's location was not a place of public entertainment within the meaning of the public entertainment ordinance.

Mok said the legislature clearly intended that the right to hold a public meeting and the right to organise public entertainment be governed by two different regimes.

He said the application for the entertainment licence would not affect the content of the performance, except in extreme cases.

Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon reserved judgment.