The police were justified in halting dancers during a gay rights rally last year because organisers had not obtained a licence under the entertainment ordinance, a court ruled yesterday.
The ruling stems from a constitutional challenge lodged earlier this year by a participant in the rally, identified only as T.
His lawyers argued that the dancing was not entertainment but the promotion of social justice.
However, the Court of First Instance found the event could be considered a form of entertainment under the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance. Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon said the law required a licence for such events and the organisers failed to get one.
The rally, marking the seventh International Day Against Homophobia (Idaho), took place in Causeway Bay on May 15 last year.
It was organised by Amnesty International and an alliance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex groups.
'Having watched the video produced by the parties taken in respect of Idaho, I am of the view that part of the event was an exhibition of dancing, as such coming within the meaning of 'stage performance' [in the ordinance],' the judge said. The safety of the stage could affect passers-by as well as performers and unforeseen emergencies could have arisen.
The organisers had obtained the police go-ahead under the Public Order Ordinance and applied for a temporary licence under the entertainment ordinance, expecting singers to perform. But when the singers could not attend, they withdrew the application.
The plaintiff, T, sought a court ruling that the police action had been unlawful and a breach of his basic rights.
Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, a member of the gay rights group Rainbow Action, said no such regulation was enforced when other groups organised protests and he thought police had enforced the law selectively.
'But I am not sure if [such selective law enforcement] is related to T's homosexual identity. Only the police know the answer,' he said.
'[The court said] there was a need to protect public safety when one danced. I really cannot see what danger there is when one dances.'
Andrew Shum Wai-nam, a member of the Civil Human Rights Front, organiser of the annual July 1 rally, said he was worried that police would abuse the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance to suppress freedom of expression.
'There need to be different ways of expression during a protest. It is not entertainment. We are expressing opinions. So we do not think there is a need to apply for an entertainment licence,' he said.
It was not the first time police have used the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance against protesters.
Activist Li Yiu-kee was fined HK$2,000 for erecting a replica of the 'Goddess of Democracy' statue outside Times Square in Causeway Bay to commemorate the June 4 crackdown in 2010.
He was found guilty last year of erecting it without an entertainment licence.