Monday, 21 July 2014

Putting up Barriers

People gathering in Civic Square for the HKTV protest last October
The Hong Kong government is taking a page out of Beijing's handbook on how to deal with negative public gatherings by shutting off access to protest areas on government land even though they were financed with taxpayer money.

At the Tamar site, there's a forecourt area where protesters like to convene at, and I have been in for the march on press freedom following the brutal chopper attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to.

However, the Hong Kong government has all of a sudden decided to start constructing a three-metre-high fence to the entrance of this area that protesters like to call "Civic Square".

When the construction work is completed, there will be a rule introduced to deny unauthorized people access to the area from 11pm to 6am. Fences will also be built to separate the forecourt from the Legislative Council complex.

Nevertheless, mass protests will be allowed into the square on public holidays and Sundays with prior consent from the director of the Administration Wing.

Which probably means no, since the application rests on one person.

Officials say the fencing was necessary due to recent protests outside Legco where protesters against plans to build new towns in the New Territories used bamboo poles to pry open the doors to the complex.

"A review of the existing security arrangements revealed it is necessary to enhance the overall capacity to withstand potential security threats to the building," a government spokesman said.

And coincidentally construction of the fence will begin next month, sealing off the entire area when then Occupy Central movement is supposed to commence.

Ever since the government relocated to this area in 2011, protesters have used the 1,000 square-metre area to meet since it was designed with the theme of "a door is always open".

Dr Chan Kin-man, a co-organizer of Occupy Central says the closing off the forecourt doesn't affect the protest movement. "We believe it is useless to occupy the Civic Square as the administration has become numb towards the protests there," he said.

"The government is only trying to find an excuse to kill the protest zone."

But James To Kun-sun, a Democratic Party lawmaker finds the government's latest actions as "tightening the public's freedom of peaceful demonstration and assembly. If the officials only want protesters to stay away from its office, it just shows how weak and afraid the government is."

Doesn't that sound like a comment one would make about Beijing as well?

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