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LCQ12: Public meetings and processions

     Following is a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, to a question by the Dr Hon Kenneth Chan in the Legislative Council today (May 22):


     It has been reported that on May 8, 2013, the Police arrested a woman who participated in a public meeting on July 1, 2011 (i.e. 22 months ago) and prosecuted her for the offences of "assisting in organising and taking part in an unauthorised assembly" under the Public Order Ordinance (Cap. 245). As all the other prosecution cases relating to the same meeting had been concluded earlier, and that woman is currently a volunteer of the secretariat of the "Occupy Central" movement, some members of the public suspect that the Police's arresting and prosecuting the woman was aimed at suppressing the movement. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of prosecutions instituted by the Police under the Public Order Ordinance in the past five years, broken down by the duration between the arrest and the prosecution (set out in the table below);

    Duration                       Number of cases
    --------                       ---------------
(i) less than three months
(ii) three months to less than
     six months
(iii) six months to less than
     12 months
(iv) 12 months or more

(b) of the reasons and justifications for the Police to prosecute the aforesaid woman after an elapsed time of 22 months;

(c) whether the aforesaid woman's identity as a volunteer of the secretariat of the "Occupy Central" movement has affected the Police's decision and timing for arresting and prosecuting the woman; if not, of the justifications; and

(d) whether the authorities will consider conducting a comprehensive review of the Public Order Ordinance, including the law enforcement process, to ensure that the Ordinance will not be used as a tool for suppressing political activities; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     Hong Kong residents enjoy the rights of assembly, procession and demonstration according to the Basic Law and other relevant laws. The Police have always handled public meetings, processions and demonstration activities in a fair, just and impartial manner in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong. The enforcement policy of the Police is to endeavour to strike a balance by facilitating all lawful and peaceful public meetings, demonstrations and processions on the one hand, and on the other hand, reducing the impact of such activities on other members of the public or road users, thereby ensuring public order and public safety.

     When expressing their views, participants of public meetings, demonstrations or processions should, under the premise of observing the laws of Hong Kong, conduct such activities in a peaceful and orderly manner.  Participants of public processions and demonstrations should not engage in any behaviour to the detriment of public order or any act of violence. In case the peace and public order are jeopardised, the Police have to take decisive enforcement actions to restore public order and public safety.

     Under the Public Order Ordinance (the Ordinance), 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, shall give a 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 does not prohibit or object to it. The notification shall cover such basic information as the date of the public meeting or procession, time of commencement and duration, location or route, theme, as well as the estimated number of participants, etc. CP may impose condition(s) on a notified public meeting or procession to ensure order of the event and overall public safety, and the corresponding condition(s) imposed will be stated explicitly in the "letter of no objection" issued to the organisers. Organisers may appeal to the statutory and independent Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions (the Appeal Board) if they consider CP's decision unreasonable. Chaired by a retired judge, the Appeal Board, consisting of three other members selected in rotation from a panel of 15 members, can be convened at short notice upon receipt of an appeal application. The Court of Final Appeal pointed out in a judgment that Hong Kong's statutory requirement for notification is widespread in jurisdictions around the world. It also affirmed that such statutory requirement for notification is constitutional, and is required to enable the Police to fulfil their duties by taking reasonable and appropriate measures, thereby facilitating lawful assemblies and demonstrations to take place in a peaceful manner.

     My reply to the various parts of Hon Chan's question is as follows:

(a) The Police do not maintain such figures.

(b) and (c) According to the Police internal guidelines, Department of Justice (DoJ)'s prior advice will be sought if the Police intend to press charges against any persons arrested in public order events. The Police will also seek DoJ's advice as to which legal provisions shall be invoked when pressing charges. DoJ will make the prosecution decisions based on the Statement of Prosecution Policy and Practice and relevant laws, after examining the relevant evidence. All prosecution decisions are totally free from political, media or public pressure.  In considering whether charges should be pressed in accordance with the Ordinance, DoJ will adopt the same principles as those adopted when handling other criminal prosecution cases, i.e. to consider whether there is sufficient evidence, and whether the public interest requires a prosecution to be pursued.

     A number of organisations conducted public meetings and processions on July 1, 2011. Some demonstrators gathered at the traffic lanes of Connaught Road Central that evening, seriously blocking up the traffic around Central. The Police took actions at the small hours of July 2, 2011 after failure of repeated advice and warnings, and 93 demonstrators were arrested for occupying the above road access. The arrested persons were subsequently either released on bail or granted temporary release.

     After considering the investigation information provided by the Police, DoJ instructed the Police to press charges against nine persons among the arrested demonstrators for "assisting in organising unauthorised assembly" and "taking part in unauthorised assembly" in late December 2011. The remaining 84 persons received written warning from the Director of Public Prosecutions. Upon DoJ's above advice, the Police have used the same approach, including by phone or paying visits to the addresses known by the Police, to locate the nine persons in question since January 2012. The Police successfully contacted eight among nine persons between January to May 2012 and invited them to police stations. They were subsequently arrested and prosecuted by the Police.

     The eight persons attended the hearing at the Kwun Tong Magistrates' Court on September 24 and 25, 2012. Among them, six persons pleaded guilty to a charge of "assisting in organising unauthorised assembly" and a charge of "taking part in unauthorised assembly", whilst the remaining two persons were bound over by the Court.

     The Police had attempted to contact the remaining woman in question by phone for over 20 times since January 2012, and there were two occasions on which the Police successfully contacted her in person and informed her of the arrest and prosecution decision. She was also required to go to the police station for completing the necessary procedures. The Police had also paid ten odd visits to a number of addresses in connection with the woman, relaying messages to her family members that the Police were looking for her, as well as informing them of the way of contacting the Police, in the hope that the woman would get in touch with the Police. However, it turned out that the woman did not do so. Under the circumstances, the Police arrested the woman in Central on May 8, 2013.

     Hong Kong is a society under the rule of law, and the Police have the responsibility to maintain law and order. The Police will take enforcement action against any person who commits an offence in a fair, just and impartial manner, regardless of the person's identity, job or background. The Police have been acting in accordance with the law, and there is absolutely no political consideration involved. The above arrest action by the Police was entirely unrelated to the identity, job or background of the arrested person. As pointed out by Police and DoJ, the discussion on "Occupy Central" had not yet surfaced when DoJ made the prosecution decision, therefore, the prosecution decision is absolutely not related to the issue. The Police also did not know the woman's relation with the "Occupy Central" issue when she was arrested.

(d) As in other international cities, there are laws for the regulation of public meetings and processions to ensure public safety and public order in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Such laws are particularly important to densely populated cities like Hong Kong, with the objective of maintaining an appropriate balance between the protection of personal freedom of expressions and the rights of peaceful assembly, and upholding social order and the overall interests of the community.

     There are provisions under the Ordinance for handling such acts as disorder in public places and a breach of the peace. There are also notification and appeal mechanisms in relation to public activities as mentioned above. The Ordinance has been effective in that it has enabled the Police to take reasonable and appropriate measures when discharging their duties, thereby facilitating peaceful conduct of lawful assemblies, processions and demonstrations. The Administration has no plan to amend such law.

Ends/Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Issued at HKT 16:21


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