The organisers of Hong Kong’s annual July 1 democracy rally have questioned the government’s explanation that the protest’s starting venue – Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park – has already been promised to a pro-Beijing group.

The Civil Human Rights Front announced on Wednesday afternoon that the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) rejected its application because the Hong Kong Celebrations Association – a charity – has “priority consideration.”

Responding to HKFP’s enquiries, an LCSD spokesperson told HKFP that it accepted the Association’s request in accordance with its published guidelines, since the Association is a registered charity and the Front is not.

Protest Hong Kong
July 1 rally 2016. File photo: HKFP.

The department received an application from the Association on March 15 to hold a science and technology exhibition named “Innovation Drives the Achievement of Dreams” from late June to early July at Victoria Park’s six football pitches.

The spokesperson said the exhibition is part of a series of events celebrating the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China.

She added that the Front applied for use of the six football pitches, the central lawn and the bandstand under the organisation Ap Lei Chau Community Trade Union on April 3 – but neither the Front nor the Union are registered charities.

“If the union chooses to stage an activity at the central lawn and bandstand areas of Victoria Park, the department will reconsider its request,” she said. “[The department] will take into account factors such as the flow of people, traffic and public order, and consult other government departments for their opinions.”

Charitable activity?

At a press conference on Thursday, Front convener Au Nok-hin agreed that charities have priority over regular organisations, but questioned whether the activities described by the LCSD would be related to charity at all.

july 1 democracy rally protest march
July 1 rally 2016. File photo: HKFP.

“The purpose of the Association’s activity this time is clear: it’s to celebrate the handover,” said Au. “How is celebrating the handover related to charity? Is it donating any money to disadvantaged communities? We don’t see that at the moment.”

“The nature of the activity is an innovation and technology exhibition. How is innovation and technology exhibition related to charity?” he asked.

“There is no way [the Front] can use a registered charity to organise the July 1 rally, because charities cannot organise political rallies.”

Three-month timeframe

Au also questioned why the Association was allowed to apply as early as March 15, when the Front was prevented from doing so until April. “We told the LCSD before our New Year’s rally that we wanted to apply for July 1, but officials told us not to talk about it so soon, as the LCSD does not consider applications over three months beforehand.”

He asked the LCSD to clarify its claim that the Association had booked the Victoria Park football courts in late June. “When we speak about a ‘late’ period in a month, we usually mean after the 20th day.”

“So when you say the LCSD received an application on March 15 for an event on [June] 20, then this will not have fallen within the three-month timeframe for application.”

Au Nok-hin Civil Human Rights Front Democratic Party
Au Nok-hin at the press conference. Photo: Civil Human Rights Front/Facebook screenshot.

As the park has been the rally’s traditional stating point for many years, Au said there could be “factors of uncertainty” if people went there and discovered it was holding an exhibition.

“We don’t want to add all this trouble to the police and the public,” he said. “We don’t have a clear Plan B.”

Au said the Front applied for the use of Victoria Park’s central lawn and bandstand areas again on Wednesday. He said he would also reach out to the Association to try and coordinate their activities together.

See also: HKFP History: How the July 1 democracy rally provides an annual reading of the political temperature

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The rejection of the Front’s application came after rumours that Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit for three days, ending on the day of the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China.

The democracy rally has been held every anniversary of the handover since 2003, when some 500,000 Hongkongers demanded that first chief executive Tung Chee-hwa step down.

Elson Tong

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.