‘Civic Square’ to reopen to public in Hong Kong – but with restricted access for demonstrations
Symbolic protest site outside the government headquarters was the setting for clash which later sparked 2014 Occupy movement
A fenced-off square outside the Hong Kong government headquarters that played a critical role in the city’s 2014 Occupy protest reopens to the public on Thursday – but with restricted access for demonstrations.
Officially called the East Wing Forecourt, but renamed “Civic Square” by pro-democracy protesters, the forecourt will reopen to vehicles as a drop-off point from 6am until 11pm. Permits to demonstrate at the site in Admiralty will only be granted on Sundays or public holidays.
The forecourt has been cordoned off since it became the flashpoint for repeated high-profile sit-ins including a 10-day demonstration against a proposed Beijing-backed education curriculum policy in 2012.
The area was stormed by protesters in 2014, led by student leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang, which sparked a clash with police that became a prelude to the Occupy movement.
One organisation, Civil Human Rights Front, has applied to march to the area for its annual New Year’s Day rally. Its chairman, Sammy Ip Chi-hin, was not optimistic about being able to use the site on January 1 as competing parties – including pro-government groups – were also vying for its occupation.
“The public area should be free for the people,” Ip said. “There [used to be] no restriction to using the area.”
After the area was closed, a three-metre high fence was erected to tighten security around the government’s headquarters. Wong scaled the barrier to “occupy” the centre of the forecourt in 2014, which led to the 79-day pro-democracy movement that closed several major traffic arteries in the city.
During her election campaign, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor pledged to consider reopening the 1,000 square metre forecourt.
Agnes Chow Ting, a key member of the Demosisto political party flanked by Wong and Law, branded the reopening “a fake”.
“The government is not showing true respect to basic human rights and the basic rights of [protesting and assembling],” Chow said.
“Civic Square will not be a place Hong Kong people can use freely. We think that the true meaning should be a place, a free space that people can use freely. They can use it as a passway or a place of protest or assembly.”
Pro-government lawmaker Edward Lau Kwok-fan, said: “We have some unhappy experiences ... so regulation is necessary to avoid [a repeat of] illegal actions such as Occupy.”