On October 11 , traffic backed up beyond the entrance of the Cheung Tsing tunnel when Tsing Ma bridge workers took dramatic protest action at the start of the morning rush hour. With a tow truck, three cars and road cones, just 10 angry workers were able to stage an illegal and potentially dangerous blockade that shut down the tunnel for 18 costly minutes. There were no arrests and police have indicated charges are unlikely to follow. Secretary for Environment, Transport and Works Sarah Liao Sau-tung acknowledged the angry workers' right to protest, but asked only that they 'bear in mind the public interest so that they do not disrupt traffic'. Last week this newspaper highlighted a flagrant breach of a protest permit by 4,500 New Territories villagers in a recent march on the Central Government Offices (CGO). Armed with a permit for just 500 marchers, the group - protesting against electoral changes set to weaken their exclusive voting rights - packed the sensitive fenced-off area outside the offices. Witnesses reported jostling and taunts directed at police. Traffic was also blocked. No prosecution or warning action will be taken other than an 'advisory' letter asking them to stick to agreed march conditions during future demonstrations. Some may argue the above highlights that key personal freedoms remain intact in Hong Kong, with the authorities displaying a highly liberal attitude to say the least towards protest enforcement. Unfortunately matters are not that simple. Weeks before the New Territories march, a group of 30 pro-democracy demonstrators were denied a permit to march on the CGO to protest against Article 23. Then there was the controversial prosecution of 16 Falun Gong protesters earlier this year for offences arising out of a peaceful demonstration outside the Beijing Liaison Office. Enforcing public order is often a thankless task for the police, often requiring delicate snap decisions to protect the public. A host of factors must be weighed at the scene - and later when prosecutions are being considered. Consistency, however, must be one of them. The growing question marks over recent selective enforcement come at a crucial time for the SAR. Proposed Article 23 legislation stands to give police even more power - possibly over sensitive demonstrations. If they cannot adequately and fairly use the laws on the books now, it makes it harder to justify expanding their powers further. Glossary rush hour (n) this is not a name invented by Jackie Chan for his movie! Rush hour is a period of heavy traffic and usually refers to the time at the beginning and the end of a working day when people travel to or from work. blockade (n) the prevention of goods or people from entering or leaving an area disrupt (v) to interrupt and cause disorder flagrant (adj) extremely bad and offensive in an obvious way exclusive (adj) complete and undivided Example: The concepts of soul-mates first became popular in modern times in reaction to the open marriage subculture of the early 1970s, leaving people wanting a more lasting and exclusive union. (SCMP, October 13, 2002) taunt (n) a sarcastic remark about someone intact (adj) remaining sound and unharmed Example: Australian environment minister David Kemp said a newly-declared wildlife sanctuary would ensure that one of the planet's last pristine ecosystems would remain intact. (SCMP, October 14, 2002) snap decision (n) a quick and clever decision consistency (n) uniformity or quality of being able to keep to a certain way Discussion points - Should the authorities charge the Tsing Ma bridge workers with obstructing traffic during their protest, which blocked the Cheung Tsing tunnel for 18 minutes? Why? - Do you think the government is being inconsistent when they let 500 marchers who breached a protest permit and probably the bridge workers off the hook, but have taken 16 Falun Gong protesters to court for public obstruction? - Would you, if you were in authority, allow a group of 30 pro-democracy demonstrators to march on the Central Government Offices to protest against Article 23? Why?