11 Hong Kong lawmakers demand protest space ‘Civic Square’, made famous in 2014 Occupy sit-ins, be fully reopened
- Officials must comply with Monday court ruling which said government restrictions unconstitutional, legislators say
Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers on Wednesday demanded the government lift restrictions on demonstrations inside a forecourt at its headquarters – and to make their point they staged a protest there.
The 11 legislators said the government-owned space in Admiralty commonly referred to as “Civic Square” must be fully reopened to comply with a recent court ruling.
“As the judge clearly ruled the restrictions unconstitutional, the government now has no reason to restrict entry to the place,” Civic Party chairman Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said.
A High Court judgment on Monday found the government had acted unconstitutionally by denying a retired photographer, Cheung Tak-wing, permission to hold an event at the forecourt on a weekday.
In September 2014 the area was sealed off with a three-metre-high fence but was stormed by student demonstrators that same month in a protest that triggered Hong Kong’s Occupy sit-ins. The forecourt was reopened in July last year but on the condition that no public rallies be held on weekdays and prior permission be sought for weekends.
Carrie Lam says government will revisit guidelines on use of ‘Civic Square’ following High Court ruling of restrictions being unconstitutional
But the judge this week found the government’s guidelines infringed on the public’s right to freedom of expression.
The city’s director of administration was given 28 days to appeal against the ruling.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday said officials would revisit the rules to see if there was any room for relaxation.
Government sources said the justice department was studying the legal reasoning behind the judge’s decision, and that Lam had not expressed a view on an appeal.
The rules were still in force on Wednesday, however. The 11 protesting lawmakers were not immediately stopped by government security guards, but their actions were videoed.
“Technically we are all breaking the rules,” Council Front lawmaker Au Nok-hin said.
Government’s decision to limit public’s access to Civic Square was unconstitutional, Hong Kong court rules
Dennis Kwok, who represents the city’s legal sector in the legislature, said the court ruling was clear.
“Even if the government tries to come up with new guidelines, they must respect citizens’ fundamental rights,” Kwok said.
Pro-democracy camp convenor Claudia Mo Man-ching went further, saying all fences around the forecourt and security guards should be removed. The government should not appeal against the court ruling, she added.
Fellow democrat Ray Chan Chi-chuen called on officials to apologise for denying the right to peaceful assembly for the past four years.
But Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the city’s largest pro-establishment party, said she would support an appeal against the ruling as the square was government property.
“The government should be entitled to impose restrictions on people’s activities there,” Lee said.
Past protests had occasionally seen chaos, she added.
A spokesperson for the Administration Wing, the department that manages the forecourt, said it had been studying the ruling with the justice department, and would make a decision on whether to appeal soon.
While the government is reviewing the guidelines for using the forecourt, it stressed there was a “genuine need” to ensure vehicles and visitors could access the government’s headquarters on weekdays.
In the mean time, public rallies would be handled “on a case-by-case basis”, it said. But, the government dismissed suggestion it should take down the perimeter fences, and said the legal dispute did not cover that.