Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam hints Civic Square could reopen after study
In break from predecessor, she promises ‘open and positive’ reconsideration of government forecourt that served as protest area until July 2014
Hong Kong’s top official on Wednesday dropped a strong hint that a popular rallying area outside government headquarters would be reopened, saying a study on the issue would be taken with an “open and positive” attitude.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor pledged during her election campaign to consider reopening the 1,000 sq m forecourt known as Civic Square, which was closed by her predecessor Leung Chun-ying in July 2014 after several major sit-ins, including a 10-day demonstration against proposed national education curriculum.
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Civic Square was also where students climbed over a fence in an attempt to “take back” the area, a move that jump-started the 79-day pro-democracy Occupy movement in 2014.
While Leung in April said the time had not yet come to reopen the area due to security concerns, Lam, who assumed office in July, hinted that the space would be reopened after the relevant management and security study was completed in three months.
“Even from the perspective of the government’s dignity, I think the forecourt outside the east wing of the headquarters should be reopened,” she said, adding the new government had adopted an “open and positive” attitude on the matter.
Lam’s comments came as a High Court hearing on a judicial challenge against the government’s decision to close the forecourt was rescheduled from Wednesday to August 23, after Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung granted leave for the applicant to amend his grounds and relief sought.
Among the additions is a debate on whether the east wing forecourt is a public or non-public place.
Gladys Li SC, for the retired photojournalist Cheung Tak-wing who applied for review in October 2014, said the director of administration had clearly mischaracterised the site as private property.
“This is a government building,” she said. “This is the most important government building in Hong Kong. This is the place where government activity is conducted. The nature of activity conducted in the building makes it public.”
But the government as the landowner, according to documents Li read in court, has claimed a private right to exclude members of the public from use of the forecourt.
“That is what we wish to challenge,” she added.
Her team was also permitted to seek additional relief: a declaration that the government arrangement is unlawful because it is unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, Lam responded to complaints about restrictions on online media access to government events, saying the Information Services Department would work out a mechanism to discuss with the press representatives.