It’s time to return Civic Square to us

June 27, 2015 08:11
The east wing forecourt of the Central Government Offices in Admiralty, also known as Civic Square, has remained closed for the past nine months. Photo: HKEJ

On July 17 last year, the government suddenly closed the east wing forecourt of the Central Government Offices in Admiralty, also known as Civic Square.

It then erected a three-meter-high steel perimeter fence around it.

Although the sidewalk along the forecourt was later reopened, the government shut down the square again immediately after the democracy street protests began in September.

It has remained closed for the past nine months, guarded by policemen and security guards around the clock.

Public access to the square is prohibited.

Civic Square got its name in 2012 during a public campaign against a proposed national education curriculum.

It goes without saying that the administration has never officially accepted this alternative name.

Officials have repeatedly said the square is government property and is not open to the public for recreational purposes.

However, the argument clearly does not reflect the entire truth.

Ever since the completion of the new government headquarters in 2011, the public had been allowed access to the square during mass rallies and protests until it was closed in September 2012.

According to the official guidelines, members of the public are entitled to hold assemblies in the square.

In fact, government representatives and Rocco Yim, chief architect of the headquarters project, told a Legco house committee special meeting that the entire complex is intended for public use.

In that meeting, the deputy director of administration said the passageway that connects the square, government headquarters and the Legislative Council building is supposed to be open for public use 24 hours a day, except during mass protests or other large-scale public activities when the police might need to adopt crowd control measures.

In other words, under normal circumstances, the administration is supposed to allow public access to the square as often as possible, including allowing citizens to pass the square and enter government headquarters and the Legco building.

Given that the protests ended more than six months ago and the remaining protest tents outside the the complex have been removed, I see no reason why the Civic Square should remain closed.

Civic Square has a very special meaning for the people of Hong Kong as a popular platform for public assemblies where citizens can express their views on public issues directly in front of government headquarters.

Our right to protest and freedom of assembly are guaranteed by the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

And our government is obligated to help the public exercise these rights.

The administration should not impose unreasonable restrictions on mass protests and assemblies, nor should protesters be forced away from the person or institution they are protesting against.

The government should reopen Civic Square immediately to restore public faith in the government and put our society back on track.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 25.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version中文版]

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Legislative Council member from the education sector