HKFP Exclusive

The organisers of Hong Kong’s annual July 1 pro-democracy march have had their application to use the football pitches at Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park rejected by the government. It is the second year in a row that the authorities rejected the Civil Human Rights Front’s (CHRF) application.

The group traditionally used the pitches as the starting point for the march, but last year the space was given to the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Celebrations Association. They held a technology exhibition celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Handover. The Association had priority to use the space because of its charitable status.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) made the same decision this year to grant the use of the pitches to the association on July 1, although the Front submitted its applications to the government last December.

July 1 march
July 1 march in 2017. Photo: In-Media.

The Front’s convener Sammy Ip told HKFP that one of its staff members received news of the decision from the LCSD on Tuesday afternoon: “It is gradually preventing us from using the venue for marches that Hong Kong people remember.”

Last year, the Front was able to use the lawn at Victoria Park – next to the football pitches – as the starting point for the rally, which has been held since 2003. But Ip said the lawn was not an ideal location based on last year’s experience: “Very few people enter the lawn to wait for the march to start.”

For the 2017 march, the Front handed in an application to use the football pitches on April 3, but the Association made an application on March 15. For the march this year, the Front changed its strategy and submitted it last December to all government agencies on the same day.

“Last year we were late – we accepted that, it was our problem. But this time we submitted in December, [the LCSD] said they would only review the applications in April,” Ip said.

July 1 march
July 1 march in 2017 starting point on the lawn. Photo: In-Media.

Ip said the LCSD replied to the Front, saying that the Hong Kong Celebrations Association – a charitable institution which is exempt from tax under section 88 of the Inland Revenue Ordinance – had priority.

“In the end, we figured out that we cannot use the space regardless,” Ip said. “We had been trying to discuss if there could be other arrangements.”

Sammy Ip
Sammy Ip. Photo: In-Media.

Ip said the Front will have a meeting on Friday to discuss further action to put pressure on the government: “But we are not optimistic.”

Established in 2006, the Hong Kong Celebrations Association regularly holds carnivals, banquets and other forms of celebratory activity during important occasions such as July 1 or New Year’s Day.

The phone number listed on their website is the same as the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions.

When asked by HKFP whether there will be any events on July 1, a staff member who picked up the phone said he had no information.

Handover technology exhibition
Technology exhibition celebrating 20th anniversary of the Handover in July 2017. Photo: In-Media.

On Wednesday evening, the LCSD confirmed that the association’s application was prioritised owing to its charitable status, saying that it rejected the CHRF’s application on April 24.

“[We] further advised that if CHRF consider holding its activity at [Victoria Park’s] Central Lawn and Bandstand instead, LCSD would consider its revised application taking into account crowd control, traffic, public safety and seek advice from relevant government departments,” a spokesperson said.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.