Police under legal spotlight
A gay demonstrator is taking legal action after Wan Chai police disrupt this year’s IDAHO gay rights rally. Andrea Yu reports
For seven years running, Hong Kong has hosted a peaceful demonstration to spread awareness of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Some of the events at this year’s International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) rally held on May 15 included a speech by LegCo member Cyd Ho, a wishing tree ceremony and a dance performance by the Dancing Angels. But not included on the agenda was police presence during the latter, forcing the dance performance to finish prematurely.
Reggie Ho, chairman of the Tongzhi Community Joint Meeting (TCJM), one of the main organising groups behind IDAHO, clearly recalls the moment the police showed up. According to Ho, around 20 police officers arrived and demanded the dance performance be stopped. “Basically, they threatened arrest,” Ho claims.
“I didn’t want the situation to escalate,” he recalls. So the music was stopped and the dancers, along with the audience, appeared stunned as Ho went up on stage to tell the crowds what happened.
“The police have told us we don’t have an entertainment licence and we can’t continue the dance,” Ho announced to the crowd of 200 attendees. He claims that despite members of the police being present during IDAHO’s rehearsal just a few hours prior – including the Dancing Angels’ routine – they didn’t mentioned anything to the organisers at the time.
Ho says that the IDAHO organising committee, including representatives from Amnesty International, Gay Harmony, Rainbow of Hong Kong and the Transgender Resource Center, had obtained a No Objection Letter from the Hong Kong Police before the demonstration. It stated, Ho claims, that the police had no problems with IDAHO using the public space for the event.
But Ho says the police’s presence did not stop there. In addition to demanding an end to the dance performance, he claims four to five policemen began videotaping not only the Dancing Angels, but members of the audience.
“The way they videotaped the crowd, it was done very aggressively,” says Paul Thompson, TCJM’s public relations officer. “And they were making a point of putting the camera on everybody, making people feel as if they’d done something wrong – which they hadn’t.”
A gay demonstrator at IDAHO, who wants to remain anonymous, is taking legal action against what he alleges was police interference on May 15. According to a press release issued on June 3, he claims his Basic Law right to peacefully demonstrate without disruption from the police was infringed upon. Michael Vidler, a human rights solicitor, is representing him.
“The dance would possibly come within the definition of public entertainment,” Vidler says. “But they were doing so as part of a demonstration and therefore they had the right to demonstrate that overrode the issue.”
If all goes in their favour, Vidler and his client hope to obtain a declaration saying that the police actions during IDAHO were wrong. “The decision of the police to disrupt this demonstration was unlawful,” claims Vidler. “The police, in our view, made a mistake. They need to be reaffirmed that people have the right to demonstrate peacefully.”
Vidler is also seeking nominal damages for his client, but he says that it is ‘ancillary’ to the declaration. He’s optimistic about the case, mentioning a 2004 case when a Falun Gong member was convicted for obstructing the pavement during a protest. The Court of Final Appeal ruled that their right to demonstrate overrode the issue of public space. Referring to the Falun Gong case, Vidler says: “That’s an authority we’ll be citing.”
Time Out contacted the Wan Chai Police District for comment but did not receive a reply.