LCQ1: Protests against parallel traders

     Following is a question by the Hon Christopher Chung and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Security, Mr John Lee, in the Legislative Council today (April 15):


     On the eighth of last month, some people who were against parallel traders staged guerrilla protests in response to calls on the Internet.  They took part in protests, for which letters of no objection had not been sought from the Police, first in Sheung Shui, then in Tuen Mun and afterwards switching to Tsim Sha Tsui.  The protesters circled passers-by whom they suspected to be Mainland visitors and hurled abuses at them, kicked the trolleys of such passers-by resulting in physical confrontations, and even charged into shops and hurled abuses at the customers.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) as it has been reported that the Police were exhausted in dealing with the guerrilla protests staged by the anti-parallel trader groups on the same day in various districts, of the new measures the Police have in place to tackle this sort of protests and the public order problems caused by such protests; whether it has assessed if the deployment of substantial police manpower to deal with this sort of protests has caused any deterioration of law and order in other districts; if it has assessed, of the outcome;

(2) given that the behaviours of the protesters against parallel traders have become increasingly radical recently, whether the Police will consider setting up temporary police posts in major shopping areas during holidays to ensure that Mainland visitors who are harassed or attacked can expeditiously seek police assistance; and

(3) as inciting members of the public on the Internet to take part in unlawful protests against parallel traders is becoming increasingly popular and open, of the existing legislation based on which the Police may prohibit such act?



     Hong Kong residents enjoy the freedom of and the right to peaceful assembly, procession and demonstration under the Basic Law.  It is the established policy of the Police to strike a balance between facilitating all lawful and peaceful public meetings and reducing the impact of such meetings on the community and road users, and to ensure public order and public safety.  We have been urging participants of public order events to remain law-abiding, peaceful and orderly when expressing their views and refrain from behaviour that is detrimental to public order or violent.

     However, the so-called "anti-parallel trader" protests in different districts of Hong Kong on many weekends in February and March this year saw various forms of unruly behaviour, verbal abuses, nuisance, violence and wilful disruption.  Some radical protesters humiliated innocent passers-by and disturbed shoppers on streets, in shopping malls or inside shops.  Small children, elderly persons, local residents and Mainland visitors have all suffered as a result. Some were even pushed onto the ground or had their belongings being kicked.  Such blatant defiance of the law has seriously upset the rule of law, public safety and social order of Hong Kong.  The SAR Government has expressed its severest condemnation against these violent and illegal acts.

     In the recent spate of incidents, as at April 8, the Police arrested 72 persons for alleged disorder in public places, fighting in a public place and possession of offensive weapons etc.  The Police will continue their serious investigation into these incidents for full pursuit of legal responsibility.  The Police have absolutely no tolerance for any illegal behaviour and will take resolute enforcement actions.

     The Government's reply to the Hon Christopher Chung's question is as follows:

(1) and (2) In handling public order events, the Police will conduct holistic risk assessment and consideration, taking into account the purpose, nature and attendance of such events as well as strategies used and experience gained in similar past events.  By doing so, the Police will work out the overall strategies and contingency plans, and, having regard to the circumstances at the time, deploy manpower flexibly and implement crowd management measures in order to safeguard public safety and maintain public order.

     In response to recent protests against parallel traders, the Police have strengthened their manpower and made corresponding deployment in districts with higher risk, such as mobilising police manpower of various regions to deal with emergencies.  Deployment is also strengthened during holidays at places more frequented by visitors and in districts clustered by protesters.

     In addition, the Police have enhanced communications with shopping malls, shop operators and public transport companies etc in districts with higher risk for minimising the impact on personal safety, public order and public transport services during such protests. Having regard to the situation, the Police have urged organisers and participants of public order events to abide by the law. Organisers should give prior notice of such events to the Police in accordance with the law.  Participants should exercise restraint, express their views in a peaceful and rational manner, and comply with the instructions of Police officers at scene.

     The safety of local residents and tourists is equally important to the Police. Protecting the lives and property of both local residents and tourists is Police's primary responsibility. We appeal to victims to report to the Police at the first instance. Residents and tourists who have witnessed any violent or illegal acts should notify the Police as soon as possible so that the Police could take action immediately.  We also urge members of the public to come forward and provide the Police with relevant information such as video footage, photos and statements to facilitate Police's adduction of evidence to bring law-breakers to justice.

     We have to stress that in order to uphold the rule of law, in addition to the Police's stringent law enforcement, co-operation from the general public by observing the law and maintaining social order jointly is required. In the period ahead, the Police will continue to keep a close watch on the situation and adopt all necessary measures to ensure public order and public safety. In parallel, the Police will deploy sufficient manpower to various districts of Hong Kong so as to maintain the Police's routine work and public services.

(3) The Basic Law guarantees the freedom of speech of Hong Kong residents. However, such freedoms of speech and assembly, no matter how extensive they can be, are not without bounds.  Provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as applied to Hong Kong, including Article 19 on the freedom of opinion and expression and Article 21 on the right of peaceful assembly, have been incorporated into the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (Chapter 383, Laws of Hong Kong).  As stated in Article 19 of the ICCPR and Article 16 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, the exercise of the right to the freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities.  It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions.  In exercising the above-mentioned rights, any person shall respect the rights of others and shall not compromise public order and public safety.

     We strongly condemn such acts as online calls for others to drive away tourists and charge shops by violent means.  We have to make it clear that be it the real or the cyber world, any persons committing unlawful acts, including inciting others through online platforms to conduct illegal activities, may be guilty of an offence and subject to criminal liability.  To cite an example, the person who posted on an online discussion forum last year a document entitled "Guidelines on fighting at the Legislative Council", in which assembly participants were suggested to bring along tools to break open doors and windows of the Legislative Council Complex and even to resort to such radical acts as snatching police shields, was eventually charged, convicted and sentenced to a rehabilitation centre for 12 months.

     The Police will continue to remind the public that the Internet is not a lawless virtual world. According to existing legislation in Hong Kong, most of the crime-prevention laws in the real world are applicable to the Internet world.  Members of the public are advised by the Police not to defy the law, but instead adhere to the proper and lawful use of the Internet and refrain from sending any irresponsible messages and those inciting others to commit crimes. Any illegal online activities will definitely be followed up by the Police by conducting investigation, collecting evidence, and, if necessary, making arrest for pursuit of legal responsibility.

Ends/Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Issued at HKT 16:10