Freedom of assembly | Jason Chao claims IACM may have breached the law

The Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau (IACM) may have breached the law by implementing a new, mandatory form for the notification of assemblies and protests, a local activist informed the media yesterday.

Jason Chao claims that the new requirement for organizing assemblies and protests threatens the right to freedom of assembly as enshrined in the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Chao, who runs an independent, unofficial election-monitoring platform, wrote in a statement yesterday that “imposing a new requirement without any legal basis is worrying.”

Under the previous law, residents were required to make a bespoke written declaration addressed to the chair of the Administration Committee of IACM, in order to organize a demonstration or public assembly. Now, they will have to fill out a particular form and deliver it to the bureau.

Chao claims to have stumbled upon the new requirement – which he claims was not publicized by the bureau – while he was delivering a bespoke document to IACM on Monday.

In the statement, the activist recalls IACM staff “reluctantly accepting” his letter and notifying him of a change in the procedure. Chao says he requested a written reply on “what legal ground the use of the form could be mandatory.”

The request was referred to an unnamed senior official at the bureau but, according to the activist, no further clarification from the bureau was communicated as of yesterday.

Chao is now considering legal action against the bureau for what he sees as a violation of Law No. 2/93/M.

Law No. 2/93/M decrees that all residents have the right to assemble under peaceful circumstances, without the need for any pre-authorization. It also states that authorities are required to inform citizens in writing should a notification of assembly or protest be rejected. Citizens may appeal against such decisions directly at  the Court of Final Instance (TUI).

The Times contacted IACM to ascertain its position on the mandatory form and the legal basis for its introduction.

The bureau defended the new requirement stating that it does not alter the information that must be provided to IACM before a protest or demonstration, rather it standardizes how that information must be presented.

“Persons wishing to hold meetings and demonstrations, exercising their rights, must, in accordance with the law, submit a prior notice to the IACM. The content of this notice must follow what is stipulated by said law,” IACM stated in a written response to the Times.

“In order to standardize the content of the notice and to avoid errors, and for the IACM and its services to be able to process, monitor and coordinate the request as soon as possible, the IACM has developed a specific notice form. […] It should be noted that the information required in this form does not overstep the content defined by [Law No. 2/93/M].”

Chao considers that the alleged failure of IACM to notify him in writing of the bureau’s decision to reject his demonstration may also be grounds for legal action.

He claims that IACM’s refusal to put the rejection of his document in writing may “potentially circumvent the mechanism of review by the judiciary.”

“A mere verbal rejection of an assembly declaration […] and a subsequent denial of a giving a written reply may [make] it hard to present the case for a judiciary review,” said the local activist.

Nevertheless, Chao says he may still take the case to the TUI.

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