Bid to keep Civic Square closed

Local | Staff Reporter 15 Aug 2019

An assembly in Civic Square could turn into an illegal and violent event, a lawyer representing the government said yesterday.

Senior Counsel Benjamin Yu was at a Court of Appeal hearing yesterday to overthrow a lower court decision last year to give full access to protesters to the square.

He said although an assembly in the square may not develop into similar disturbances equivalent to the scale of Occupy Central in 2014 or recent anti-fugitive law protests, but it could turn into an illegal and violent event.

Yu said the court should consider the risks of fully opening the square.

The government appealed the case after the High Court Court of First Instance in November last year breached the constitution in banning people from entering the Civic Square.

The first day hearing was heard before chief judge of the High Court Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor, vice-president of the Court of Appeal of the High Court and justice of appeal Aarif Barma.

But retired press photographer Cheung Tak-wing, who filed the judicial review, told the court yesterday that opening the square would only allow citizens an additional venue to exercise freedom of expression.

He criticized the government for restricting assemblies at the square and in recent months, extending such restrictions to rallies in other areas, adding that the government was against the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance and the Basic Law.

"They should treat legal and illegal protests separately," Cheung said. "You can't ban people from going out because there is one thief in the society. It's unreasonable to restrict the rights of other people just because some do not obey rules."

Cheung filed the judicial review in October 2014, requesting to cancel the measures that forbade people from entering the square, after his application to use the area for a public meeting was refused in September 2014 as it fell on a weekday.

He challenged the permission scheme, claiming it amounted to unjustified restrictions on the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

His appeal came after student activists and protesters in September 2014 stormed the square to reclaim it as a protest area, kick-starting the Occupy Movement.

It led to closure of the square for three years before it was reopened with conditions in December 2017.

People had to obtain approval from the director of administration before they could hold meetings on Sundays or holidays for a specific period from 10am to 6.30pm.

However, the square has been cordoned off amid recent social unrest, as it was sealed by layers of two-meter tall water-filled barrier.

The hearing continues today.

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