21 February 2019
Police try to break up protesters during an overnight vigil in Chater Road after the July 1 democracy march. Photo: HKEJ
Police try to break up protesters during an overnight vigil in Chater Road after the July 1 democracy march. Photo: HKEJ

How Occupy Central timing poses a dilemma for both sides

Occupy Central has yet to announce an official date for its planned blockade of Hong Kong’s main business and financial district but already, it’s posing a dilemma for both sides.

At issue is timing, what constitutes public obstruction and how the police should handle the situation, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported Wednesday.

The sit-in protest is likely to take place on Oct. 1, China’s national day, and the first of a two-day public holiday in Hong Kong, according to reports.

That means Chater Road, a main artery expected to be occupied by the protesters, as well as other key areas in Central, would be closed to vehicular traffic from 7 a.m. to midnight as has been the practice during Sundays and public holidays.

In fact, huge numbers of foreign domestic workers are allowed to congregate in most of these areas on those days when they are closed to vehicular traffic during those hours.

Here’s the rub:

1) If the sit-in is held within that period (7 a.m. to 12 midnight), does it constitute public obstruction or disturbance?

2) If it does not constitute public obstruction or disturbance, would the police move in on the protesters anyway and make arrests?

3) If the sit-in runs past midnight, it would fall within the seven-hour window (12 midnight to 7 a.m.) during which Chater Road is open to vehicular traffic.

4) If the protesters break up after midnight, can the police stop them from regrouping after 7 a.m.?

5) Or will arrests be made not a minute too soon after midnight to clear Chater Road for the morning traffic?  

A protest march for universal suffrage organized by Civil Human Rights Front is scheduled on the afternoon of Oct. 1 from Victoria Park to Chater Road.

Some Occupy Central supporters said the sit-in protest could follow the march, as happened during the July 1 pro-democracy rally which ended with an overnight vigil in Chater Road, resulting in dozens of arrests.

This time, the protesters could occupy Central until midnight and not risk arrest if they regroup as Oct. 2 is also a public holiday which means the same traffic arrangement applies, the report said.

That also means the protest is not likely to achieve the kind of dramatic public impact its organizers originally intended.

Except for hotels, restaurants and luxury shops which would have called it a day by the time the sit-in gets going in earnest, most of Central would be closed for business. 

Organizers have been trying to drum up attendance by opening the protest to more people, the report said.

For instance, participants are no longer required to sign a letter of intent before they can join.

About 10,000 people are expected to take part, lower than previous estimates, with organizers recently admitting the movement is losing popular support.

Which again is a dilemma for the police.

If there is no public obstruction, civil disturbance or violence, are arrests necessary or even warranted?

Government sources said Occupy Central has not applied for a rally permit, unlike Civil Human Rights Front which received permission for the march, according to the report.

In a worst-case scenario, Occupy Central could be held liable for organizing a public gathering without a permit, it said.

Still, the police are pressing on with preparations including simulated crowd dispersal and arrests. They are authorized to use high-powered tear gas if necessary 

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