March organiser could be banned from ‘Civic Square’ over ‘failure to stop separatist’ display at forecourt of Hong Kong government headquarters
- Authorities say they have expressed ‘extreme regret’ to those behind New Year’s Day march after individuals entered space to advocate independence
- Civil Human Rights Front says it will stick to its guns for future events, accusing government of contravening Basic Law
Pro-democracy campaigners could be barred from a rallying venue for protesters outside the Hong Kong government’s headquarters after pro-independence activists were able to address the gathering during a recent demonstration there, authorities warned on Wednesday.
Responding to a Post inquiry, the Administration Wing, which manages the forecourt widely known as “Civic Square”, said it had written to the Civil Human Rights Front, organiser of the New Year’s Day march, over its “failure to stop separatists”.
The government earlier expressed “extreme regret that the front did not appeal to participants not to conduct any activity that contravenes the laws in force [in Hong Kong], including the Basic Law”.
The forecourt was closed to the public in the run-up to the Occupy movement, a civil disobedience campaign for greater democracy, which brought parts of the city to a standstill for 79 days in 2014. The space was reopened in 2017 for civic groups to organise rallies during the weekends and holidays.
The letter came a day after the annual new year march on Tuesday. The government complained at the end of the march that there were individual participants carrying placards “with slogans advocating independence”, who forced their way past security guards into the forecourt. Two guards fell to the ground during the scuffles.
In its reply to the Post citing the letter to organisers, the government said it would “give appropriate consideration” to the incident when handling applications to use the forecourt for future “public meetings or processions”.
“The government allowed the public to go into the site for public meetings, demonstrations or for expressing their views, but it cannot allow individuals to use the venue to advocate independence thoughts,” it said.
Referring to the city’s mini-constitution, it added: “The government is responsible for complying with the laws and maintaining Hong Kong’s constitutional order according to the Basic Law.”
Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, convenor of the front, said it was the government that had contravened the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by restricting the public from freely expressing political ideas.
He admitted the front had not laid down any restrictions when it set up a stage at the forecourt for participants to speak.
“But if some were to incite violence on stage then it would not be allowed,” Sham said.
He also said his group would stick to its practice for next year’s event and all other rallies.
Organisers estimated 5,500 people joined the march while police put the figure at 3,200 at its peak. Both estimates were roughly half of last year’s numbers.
About 30 independence advocates, mostly wearing black and some with masks, raised flags and banners with “Hong Kong Independence” slogans during the march which started in Causeway Bay.
Some also waved Tibetan independence and Taiwan flags to demonstrate their solidarity with other separatist sentiments.
The government had made clear earlier that any display of banners or placards with slogans advocating Hong Kong independence would not be allowed in the forecourt where protests traditionally end.
While most independence activists stayed away, one protester was spotted at the forecourt holding a placard that read: “Only with two countries will there be two systems.”
Security guards tried to stop the man and a few others accompanying him, but they forced their way in after some pushing and shoving. The man managed to go on stage to give a pro-independence speech and shout slogans.
Hong Kong National Front spokesman Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang said the freedom of speech and assembly covered everyone, including independence advocates.
“You cannot exclude someone for what he said,” Leung added.
He also acknowledged that pro-independence groups had told the march organiser that members would not enter the square, adding it was not possible to control the whereabouts of all protesters.