June 4 and July 1 groups fear for freedom of assembly
New rules will restrict licences for fund-raising stalls at the June 4 and July 1 political gatherings
Rally organisers and political groups could run out of quotas for roadside fund-raising stalls at the annual June 4 night vigil and July 1 march following new government measures to limit licence applications.
The new rules, contained in an attachment to the temporary hawker licence application form the groups must complete, were introduced in July last year but not publicised.
They restrict each fund-raising body to 20 licences a year and no more than two in the same district. Those who have been granted more than 12 licences are required to prepare an income and expenditure account.
The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, which handles the applications, said the measures were introduced "to prevent abuse of the licensing mechanism" with the aim of "enhancing the transparency and accountability of fund-raising activities".
The department said it reviewed the practice after media coverage of suspicious on-street fund-raising activities last year.
But several political parties and pressure groups that frequently organise rallies and protests and apply for licences said they did not know about the new rules and feared the government could further restrict freedom of assembly.
Police had earlier imposed a surprise ban on stalls that groups had intended to set up along the route of today's protest march from Victoria Park.
Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit, chairman of the Legislative Council's panel on food safety and environmental hygiene, said the restrictions were "unfair and unreasonable" because the applicants were not aware of them beforehand.
His party had already used up its quota in Causeway Bay by setting up two stalls for today's political rally.
Democratic Party chief executive Lam Cheuk-ting said the new restrictions were ridiculous.
"If the government wants to tackle suspicious fund-raising activities, it does not need to affect other legitimate fund-raising bodies," he said.
Jackie Hung Ling-yu, convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front, organiser of today's protest and the annual July 1 rally, said the new measures could affect the operations of pressure groups that relied on stalls to meet the public.