March leaders hail win on curbs
Appeal panel rejects police July 1 rally limits
An appeal board has overturned police limits on the July 1 march for democracy - a rare reversal which march organisers and human rights advocates hailed as reasserting the public's right to protest.
In a judgment delivered yesterday, the Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions - which considers appeals against police decisions - ruled it was unlikely the procession from Causeway Bay to Central could be completed by 6pm, given past experience.
It also said an associated condition giving police the right to close the west gates to the Central Government Offices if the march did not finish within the prescribed time was 'unenforceable, difficult to understand and clearly should not be there'.
Board chairman Raymond Sears QC, a retired High Court judge, said it was not up to the police to say whether people may go in or out of a government property which is not under the force's jurisdiction.
In another blow to police attempts to restrict marchers, the board ordered that all westbound lanes of roads used for the march should be opened to the protesters.
Police had authorised the use of only one lane.
The board ruled the march should take place between 2.30pm and 6.30pm, rather than 3pm to 6pm as police had ordered, and said police should show flexibility if marchers were still on the streets after the prescribed time.
Mr Sears said the police restrictions made march organisers liable for criminal prosecution if they were breached.
Police Senior Superintendent Cheung Tak-keung had told the board it was imperative the march finish by 6pm because 70,000 people were expected to gather on the island waterfront to watch the handover anniversary fireworks show over the harbour, which starts at 8pm.
But Mr Sears said: 'There may be some people who view expressing one's opinion as a far more important right than watching fireworks ... personally I think it's more important to go to a public procession ...'
Mr Cheung told the board that, given the turnout for the march was expected to be low, the decision was taken to close only one lane of the roads to avoid angering other road users, though police would close more lanes if needed.
March organisers the Civil Human Rights Front and lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said restricting marchers to one lane would hamper the march's swift completion. Law Yuk-kai, of Human Rights Monitor, said: 'Either you have to get rid of the restriction on lanes, or you have to depend on people running.'
The appeal is only the fourth the board has heard since 2004, and only the second it has allowed.
Big day out
Whether it's to celebrate the handover or push for increased democracy, Hongkongers will come out in droves on Sunday
The number expected to gather on the HK Island waterfront for the 8pm fireworks display: 70,000
The number expected to march for democracy in the afternoon: 50,000