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Hong Kong government to appeal High Court decision removing restrictions on protests outside its headquarters

Hong Kong's government is to appeal a court ruling over the restrictions it imposed on protesters using the fenced-off open square outside the government headquarters in Admiralty.

The Administration Wing, which manages the area, said it was seeking clarity on parts of the ruling as it "involved some important legal principles which have far-reaching impact on the property management work on government premises".

A 1,000-square-metre open space outside the East Wing of the government headquarters, also dubbed "Civic Square" by activists, the area had been a popular spot for anti-government protests.

But, the area has been cordoned off since September 2014 after it became the flashpoint for repeated high-profile demonstrations, including the 2012 hunger strike against a proposed national education curriculum, and the clash between police and young protesters who that subsequently became the Occupy stand-off in late 2014.

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's administration reopened the forecourt to the public last December, but said interested users must seek approval from the director of administration. And permits to protest at the site would only be granted on Sundays or public holidays.

Last month the High Court ruled in favour of a retired photographer that the government had acted unconstitutionally by denying him the right to hold an event at the square on a weekday.

The chief executive has promised a review of the restrictions following the court ruling.

However, in a statement on Thursday, the Administration Wing said: "Having studied the judgment in detail, and having carefully considered the legal advice of the Department of Justice, the Administration Wing has lodged an appeal against the judgment with a view to clarifying the relevant legal points.

"The Administration Wing considers that clarification of the relevant legal points can help the government refine the property management measures on its premises."

In its notice of appeal, the Administration Wing said the square was not a public space, but part of the government headquarters, and as the rightful owner it had the right to approve entry.

The department said citizens could organise pre-approved public events in the square between 10am and 6pm on Sundays and public holidays, which was the best time for public assembly. It believed the rules did not breach the freedom of expression and assembly.

Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, of the Civil Human Rights Front " an umbrella body of activists groups, called the move a "hostile gesture" on the part of Lam's government.

"It shows that Lam does not respect people's right of assembly," Sham said. "The court has said the restrictions were unreasonable and unconstitutional, the only thing Lam should do is to order the lifting of the restrictions."

Pan-democratic lawmaker Au Nok-hin dismissed as "nonsense" the government's intention to keep restrictions for the use of the square in place. A space he said was supposedly designed for holding public assemblies.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Copyright (c) 2018. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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