Hong Kong’s anti-government protesters learned on Wednesday that the Airport Authority had secured an interim court injunction order to ban them from Hong Kong International Airport after a mass sit-in that lasted for five days, cancelling hundreds of flights and descending into clashes with police on Tuesday. Although the court order does allow the protesters to remain in two designated areas in the arrivals hall, the authority said it was unlikely to grant such requests in the short term.
The injunction, first reported by the Post, prohibits any unlawful and wilful obstruction of the proper use of the airport – one of the busiest aviation hubs in the world – or the roads and passageways nearby. It also prohibits anyone from “inciting, aiding and/or abetting” such acts.
How does it work?
An interim injunction order is typically applied against a person or group to make them do or refrain from a certain act. It could also be used against any unnamed persons that fit certain criteria drawn up by the applicant for the injunction. The Airport Authority seeks to stop any persons “unlawfully and wilfully obstructing or interfering with the proper use” of the airport. It will also grant authority to its staff and the Aviation Security Company to enforce the order. Court bailiffs and the police could be asked to clear any obstruction.
Why was the injunction order requested?
The Airport Authority submitted the application to the High Court in a closed-door hearing late on Tuesday night through Senior Counsel Benjamin Yu, an independent barrister acting for the authority. The order was granted after protesters occupied the arrivals hall of the airport for five days, starting on August 9. On Monday afternoon, the authority suspended all outgoing flights. It said 979 flights were cancelled on Monday and Tuesday. The situation descended into chaos late on Tuesday when violent clashes broke out after two mainlanders were detained and assaulted by protesters.
Why did the Airport Authority allow the protesters to stay in the first place and not disperse them earlier?
The by-laws of the Airport Authority allow it to sue anyone who unreasonably obstructs or interferes with the operation of the airport, and require any demonstrations to have permission. The authority has not exercised this power over the five days of protests and instead took the matter to the court.
Fred Lam Tin-fuk, the chief executive of the Airport Authority, has not fully explained the lack of enforcement actions on Monday and Tuesday. At a press conference on Wednesday, Lam said the authority tried to be “tolerant” towards the protesters, but said he could not speak for the police. He also said the authority’s staff had been kept busy since Monday because of the flight delays and cancellations.
An aviation source said that after protesters stormed the departure hall on Tuesday, Lam notified the Airport Authority’s board that he would apply for the injunction order. The source said the authority and the police might not have enough manpower to disperse all the protesters.
Senior Counsel Anson Wong Man-kit said that by taking the matter to the court, the Airport Authority had effectively shifted its own responsibility to maintain order and enforce the law – as well as that of the police – to court bailiffs.
What happens next? What are the consequences for not complying with the order?
The order has three main restrictions. It bans the unlawful and wilful obstruction of airport and roads nearby; confines any demonstrations or protests “strictly within” two designated protest areas at the two ends of the arrival hall; and bars anyone from “inciting, aiding and/or abetting” any of the obstructive acts.
The order also gives the Airport Authority the “liberty to cancel or reduce the size of the protest area” – or extend it. Anyone who violates the order could be sued for contempt of court, a criminal offence that could bring a jail term and fine as determined by the courts. Senior Counsel Wong said the injunction order could also bar internet users and travellers from expressing their support for the protesters. Wong said: “Netizens could still ask others to join the demonstration in the designated area, but not to besieging it or going to the departure hall.”
Anson Wong Yu-yat, a human rights lawyer, said the scope of the injunction order goes too far, empowering the authority to punish anyone interfering or blocking roads “near” the airport. He noted that the appeal court struck out “near” in an injunction case against the Occupy protests in 2014. “There is room for the court to narrow the scope of the order to be more reasonable,” he said.
Any protester or member of the public could contest the order. A High Court hearing on August 23 is to rule on whether to extend or change the Airport Authority’s injunction order.
Has an injunction order ever been granted over protests in Hong Kong?
During the months-long Occupy protests in 2014, bus, minibus and taxi companies obtained an injunction order to stop thousands of protesters from occupying the roads in Admiralty and Mong Kok, dealing a blow to the 79-day movement. Thirty-seven people, including student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung, were arrested for obstructing bailiffs who tried to remove the barriers set up by protesters. All of the 37 were convicted of contempt of court and Wong was sentenced to three months in jail, though on appeal it was reduced to two months.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: What the airport’s court order means