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LC Urgent Q2: Police's handling of public meetings and processions

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Yuk-man under Rule 24(4) of the Rules of Procedure and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Ambrose S K Lee, in the Legislative Council today (July 13):


     In the early hours on July 2 this year, over 2,000 protesters participated in a sit-in protest at Queensway and requested to stage a demonstration outside the Government House to express the wish that the Government would withdraw the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2011, and the Police eventually decided to use force to clear the scene and took about 140 of the protesters to a police station. In the incident, Legislative Council Members and reporters were injured. As a similar assembly will be held outside the Legislative Council Building from July 13 until the evening on July 15, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the Police will, without giving prior warning, use pepper spray and force on the participants of the aforesaid assembly to be held from July 13 to 15;

(b) whether the Police will cordon-off the area in which the assembly will be held, and of the circumstances under which the Police will allow other people to enter such cordoned-off area; and

(c) of the circumstances under which the Police will arrest participants of the assembly, and the criteria the Police will adopt in using handcuffs or plastic strings to arrest them?



     It is mentioned in the Honourable Member's question that protesters were taken to a police station on July 2. I must point out that the organiser of the public meeting and public procession on July 1 had advised the Police that the public meeting would commence at 2pm on that day at the Victoria Park, followed by a procession to the Central Government Offices where another meeting would take place. The event should end at 8pm. The Police maintained communication with the organiser and put in place necessary crowd control measures and arrangements in light of the details of the event concerned.  

     After the procession on that day, most of the participants left peacefully either in the final phase of the event or at the Central Government Offices. However, without giving prior notice to the Police according to the law, some people forced their way to and occupied the eastbound and westbound carriageways of Connaught Road Central and the westbound carriageway of Queen's Road Central near the Bank of China Tower, seriously blocking up the main carriageway of the Central District on Hong Kong Island.

     As seen from the scene, the protesters concerned refused to leave despite Police's repeated advice and warnings including the serving of large warning banners. The eastbound and westbound traffic of the Central District had almost come to a standstill for over seven hours. Some protesters even pulled the mills barriers and what was aggravating was that some individuals dashed to the road. Fortunately, the drivers affected braked sharply to avoid serious and unfortunate accidents. On another front, some protesters suddenly threw objects at police officers and charged the police cordon line. Therefore, the Police had to use Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) foam to stop the violent acts of protesters and I understand that most of the police officers had given advance verbal warnings before using OC foam. As their repeated advice and verbal warnings turned futile, the Police finally made arrest in the small hours of July 2 to resume public order and traffic flow. The behaviours of that batch of protestors, including forcible occupation of the Central District's main carriageway which caused serious traffic congestion, challenged the Police's authority and operation in maintaining law and order and brought damages to the community's respect to freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration. I believe the community at large dismisses such behaviours.

     President, I would like to emphasise that the HKSAR Government respects the rights of peaceful public procession, meeting and expression of views. As Hong Kong is a crowded place, large scale public meetings and processions will unavoidably affect other people or road users, and may have impacts on public order. In this connection, the Police's policy is to strike a balance by facilitating all lawful and peaceful public order events while taking responsibility to reduce the impact of such events on other members of the public to ensure public safety and order. In many of the large scale public processions or meetings held in Hong Kong in the past, most of the participants of public order events accept that in exercising their rights of expression, they should, on the premise of observing the law of Hong Kong without affecting social order, proceed in a peaceful and orderly manner.

    Under the Public Order Ordinance (Cap. 245), any public meeting or procession the attendance of which exceeds the limit prescribed in the Ordinance, i.e. public meetings of more than 50 persons and public processions of more than 30 persons, should give notice to the Commissioner of Police (CP) not less than seven days prior to the intended event, and it can only be conducted if CP has not prohibited or objected to it. CP may impose condition(s) upon the organiser(s) to ensure order of the public order event and public safety. Organisers may appeal to the statutory Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions if they consider CP's decision unreasonable.

     Generally speaking, upon receipt of a notification of a public meeting or procession, the Police will maintain an active and close communication with the organiser to offer advice and assistance. Police community relations officers may also be present during an event as appropriate to act as a channel of communication between the organiser and the Field Commander. The Police have a duty to take lawful measures to assist the organiser to appropriately manage the public meetings or processions he organised. In assessing the crowd and traffic management measures and manpower required for ensuring public safety and public order during each public order event as well as minimising the impact on other people and road users, the Police will make reference to the number of participants and information provided by the organiser, experiences in handling similar events as well as other operational considerations.

     The three parts of the Honourable Member's question are related to public meetings to be organised by the Member's affiliated organisation outside the Legislative Council Building between today and July 15. We hope that the organiser will co-operate with the Police, and the Police will certainly provide appropriate assistance to facilitate the event to be held under lawful and orderly principles. While it is not appropriate for me to disclose or discuss the Police operation strategies, enforcement plan or any hypothetical questions about different scenarios, I would like to explain the Police's basic objectives and policies in handling public activities.

     As regards lawful and peaceful public meetings and processions which are held in an orderly manner, the Police will not unreasonably restrict participants from entering and leaving the area of the event. The Police will take appropriate crowd control measures to partition participants of different public order events as well as the participants and other road users in order to protect the safety of participants and other members of the public.  

     On occasions where the law is, or is likely to be, violated during public meetings or processions by acts of individuals, particularly when there are acts which may cause danger to others or lead to a breach of public order, the Police will make professional judgement based on the assessment at scene and take prompt enforcement actions where necessary. Where the circumstances and conditions at the scene permit, the Police will certainly, in the first instance, issue verbal warnings to the person concerned before making any intervention. However, if the person adopted an uncooperative attitude, and his continuous acts might involve disruption to public order, or even endanger public safety, the Police will stop his behaviour or acts by taking prompt and appropriate actions to avoid further deterioration of the situation.

     If the Police believe that there is evidence of illegal acts in a public order event, the Police will consider arresting the suspects.  According to the internal guidelines of the Police, police officers use handcuffs or plastic strings on arrested persons only when it is reasonably necessary, including that there are reasons for police officers to believe that the arrested persons may escape, it is imperative to ensure the safety and control of the arrested persons or to protect the officers themselves or other persons from injury.

     President, our society respects peaceful and lawful public meetings and processions. We recognise the rights of expressing views and demands in a rational and peaceful manner, but we cannot tolerate any violent behaviour jeopardising the law and order.  I therefore call on participants of public meetings or processions, including participants of public meetings held from today to July 15 outside the Legislative Council Building, that, in exercising their right of free expression, they should ensure the events be held in a peaceful and orderly manner on the premise of observing the Hong Kong law as well as respecting and safeguarding public order.

Ends/Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Issued at HKT 16:41


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