Legco fence is no barrier to people's right to hold protests

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 July, 2014, 5:04am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 July, 2014, 10:09am

Cities, like people, change. That is why a three-metre fence is being built around the east-side entrance to the government's Tamar headquarters. Peaceful and orderly demonstrations, a hallmark of Hong Kong society, can no longer be guaranteed to be violence-free. But while the decision to improve security for legislators and officials is understandable, legitimate protest in the area must not be curbed.

The headquarters were designed with the theme of "door always open, land always green, sky will be blue, people will be connected". To some, the fence around the 1,000 square-metre forecourt, dubbed by student activists the "civic square", symbolises the closing of the government's willingness to listen to the people's voice. But protests in the area will not be banned, merely better regulated. Demonstrations can be held there with permission on Sundays and public holidays, while unauthorised access will be prevented between 11pm and 6am.

Unruly behaviour is unusual at Hong Kong protests and the demonstrations and sit-ins at the forecourt have never been troublesome. But the recent occupation of Taiwan's legislature by students has raised concerns about security, especially as the area leads to the Legislative Council complex. The fence was deemed necessary after protesters seeking to overturn plans for new towns in the New Territories twice tried to force their way into Legco. Declining support for the government and the Occupy Central movement's radical fringe elements have hastened the perceived need to shore up security measures.

Free speech is a cherished right of Hong Kong society and the ability to protest and demonstrate are integral elements. But there have to be rules about how, when and where that right can be exercised to prevent unnecessary disruption to the lives of other people. Regulations are necessary to deal with competing uses of areas and to ensure safety. Shifting trends mean modification is necessary. Authorities have determined a fence is now required in the Legco forecourt, but that cannot get in the way of the right of citizens to have their voices heard.