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July 1 march

Organisers of Hong Kong’s July 1 march Civil Human Rights Front denied use of Victoria Park soccer pitches after priority given to pro-Beijing groups for second year running

Officials’ green light for Hong Kong Celebrations Association – comprising 40 groups including business chambers and Federation of Trade Unions – called ‘ridiculous’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 May, 2018, 1:24pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 May, 2018, 9:22pm

For the second year in a row, organisers of the annual July 1 pro-democracy march in Hong Kong are struggling to secure a venue after priority was given to a pro-Beijing group celebrating the 21st anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule.

Civil Human Rights Front convenor Sammy Ip Chi-hin said in a statement it was “ridiculous” for the government to allow the Hong Kong Celebrations Association – comprising 40 pro-Beijing groups, including business chambers and the Federation of Trade Unions – to use the football pitches at Victoria Park to organise activities as a charity.

“We submitted our application in December last year,” Ip explained. “But charities are not supposed to organise political events, so we can never enjoy the same treatment [as the association].”

Under the city’s laws, charities are defined as bodies established exclusively for purposes such as poverty relief, advancement of education, or religion.

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Lawmaker Au Nok-hin, the front’s deputy convenor, said officials should look into whether the association was in fact a charity.

From 2004 to 2016, the pro-democracy Civil Human Rights Front has used six soccer pitches at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay as the starting point for its marches. The pitches can accommodate tens of thousands of people.

July 1 is the day we celebrate the end of colonial rule ... Celebratory activities should be organised
Cheng Yiu-tong, Hong Kong Celebrations Association

Last year, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which is responsible for allocating the venue, gave the green light for the association to organise a science expo there.

Association chairman Cheng Yiu-tong said on Wednesday the department had again allowed his group to use the six fields for a large-scale exhibition from June 24 to July 4 this year.

“The activity is still being planned, and no details can be revealed yet,” he added. “But we will be using all six pitches.”

“July 1 is the day we celebrate the end of colonial rule ... Celebratory activities should be organised.”

A department spokesman explained that the association was a “charitable organisation registered with the Inland Revenue Department with higher booking priority”.

Cheng said more than 210,000 people attended the four-day science expo from June 29 to July 2 last year, while only “thousands” joined the front’s march.

The march last July instead kicked off at the park’s central lawn and the bandstand. The front claimed more than 60,000 people took part in the march from Causeway Bay to government headquarters at Tamar, while police put the peak turnout at about 14,500.

Au said the front this year was applying to obtain from police a notice of no objection for the march to kick off at either East Point Road or Great George Street, both located outside the park. In its application, the front anticipated that at least 1,500 people would show up at the starting point, but it was understood the group did not yet have a specific estimate.

Citing the front’s experience last year in which marchers had to squeeze through narrow paths from the central lawn to get to the road, Au explained it would be more convenient to kick the event off from either street.

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The annual march marks Hong Kong’s return in 1997 to Chinese sovereignty from British colonial rule. The peaceful demonstration has become a rallying point for the city’s pro-democracy activists. At its height in 2003, half a million people took to the streets in protest against plans to enact national security legislation and in the wake of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars.

Asked if a political agenda had motivated the association’s application, Cheng said: “We don’t consider these sort of things. It was residents who demanded that we organise celebratory activities.”