After more than two months, Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement protesters may be displaced from the site they’ve occupied in the heart of the city as soon as this week.
According to notices in city newspapers today, protesters are banned from portions of the mid-city highways where they are encamped, as well as from setting up “tents, canopies, barricades, barriers” or other blockades in these areas.
The solution is a judicial one—hence the newspaper notice. And that could make clearing the area messy and particularly contentious.
Hong Kong chief executive CY Leung has refused to meet with students, sending his deputy in his place for the sole public government-protester talks that have taken place, and despite the fact that the protests are illegal, police have not attempted to clear them on their own. Instead, they are relying on Hong Kong’s High Court, which has the power to grant pre-trial injunctions if it agrees a plaintiff’s business is being severely damaged.
This bloodless, court-driven solution has one pretty obvious flaw: It applies to certain geographic areas within the protest zone, but not the entire zone itself.
The original High Court injunction, brought by bus company All China Express, only addresses the sections of the protest sites that affect the bus company’s routes. So, for example, it only asks for the eastbound lane of Connaught Road to be cleared, per maps from the original injunction:
The injunction also calls for the eastbound portion of Harcourt Road to be cleared, again presumably because that is the only direction the company’s buses travel:
Also included: the adjacent Cotton Tree Drive, but not Tim Mei Avenue, a parallel street at the other end of the protests:
The protests, and particularly hundreds of tents and dozens of supply and first aid stations, are spread across both lanes of Connaught Place, and in both directions on Harcourt Place as well as completely blocking parts of Tim Mei. For example, you can see the concrete traffic divider here that runs between the east-bound and west-bound lanes of Connaught Place in this Dec. 8 photo:
So any clearing this week that is based entirely on the court ruling will be partial at best, and any clearing that oversteps the ruling is likely to be fiercely fought by pro-democracy lawyers. Nevertheless, one police source told the South China Morning Post that police will attempt to clear the entire site, “including areas that are not covered in the injunction order.”
Already, some protesters have moved a first aid station away from the delineated area on Cotton Tree Drive, and are vowing “no retreat” (paywall) when the police arrive.
Danni Lam and Zheping Huang contributed reporting.