Finally, the authorities have taken action to evict members of Occupy Central, who have been camping on the ground floor of HSBC headquarters for almost a year. Bailiffs were sent to the scene after protesters ignored a court order to leave two weeks ago. It is regrettable that the group remains defiant and had to be forcefully removed after scuffling with law enforcers. The way they have occupied an area for public passage for months and defied a court ruling has gone beyond what is acceptable within the rule of law.
Inspired by the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, the activists followed suit by occupying the walk-through area below the bank's headquarters since last October. The Hong Kong version echoes the global campaign, focusing on corporate greed, exploitation and economic injustices. It drew a turnout of a few hundred at its peak and soon developed into a self-contained community. But the momentum has gradually petered out, with the campaign's presence only felt by those who walk past.
HSBC has been restrained despite the nuisance caused to its employees and customers. The plaza is the bank's private property but was designated a public passage in an agreement with the government in 1983. The bank only took the case to the court in the hope of putting an end to the campaign in accordance with the law. The court ruled that the group had no legal basis to occupy the site and was ordered to vacate by August 27. But the group stayed put until yesterday.
The public have also greeted the movement with equal tolerance. The activists have been allowed to protest at the expense of people's convenience for nearly a year. Their freedom to demonstrate has been fully respected. Like their counterparts elsewhere, the campaign has long lost steam. The activists are entitled to their right to protest as long as they keep the disturbance to a minimum. They have been given more than enough time to get their message across. It was time for them to follow the court order, pack up and go.