The rural advisory body Heung Yee Kuk has promised to lend their assistance to 11 indigenous villagers of Sha Tin who have been found guilty of illegally transferring their land rights to developers last Friday.

The District Court convicted the villagers and a developer of conspiracy to defraud and sentenced them to a term of between two-and-a-half to three years in prison each. The villagers had sold their rights under the Small House Policy to developers for a return of HK$150,000 to HK$250,000, RTHK reported.

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Leung Fuk-yuen and the ads in the newspapers.

Under the Small House Policy, male indigenous villagers who are descendants of a male line from a recognised village in the New Territories may apply for building a small house on their own land at zero premium, or on public land through a private treaty grant, once during their lifetime. This right is non-transferable.

‘Constitutionally protected’

The Heung Yee Kuk published advertisements in various newspapers on Saturday, voicing its support for the convicted villagers and saying that their rights were “constitutionally protected”.

Meanwhile, Alfred Lam Kwok-cheong, a lawyer and ex-officio Executive Councillor of the Heung Yee Kuk, told RTHK that indigenous residents who have the intention of, or are in the process of, transferring their right to build small houses should wait for the results of the case’s appeal.

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Alfred Lam (left) and Leung Fuk-yuen (right). Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Lam said that the law did not specify whether transferring the right was illegal. He was of the view that the act was merely a form of cooperation between indigenous male villagers and land developers.

He also said that in 2007, when the then-Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-Ngor wrote to the Heung Yee Kuk saying that the villagers suspected of transferring their rights will not face criminal prosecution and that they had seen it as reassurance from the government.

“The letter… very clearly stated that this sort of arrangement – whether it’s selling the right to land developers for money or [otherwise] – no matter what you do, it’s only a breach of terms under the lease, and it’s not fraud or dishonesty,” Lam said.

Lam attended an event in Shenzhen on Monday but did not respond to questions about the letter.

Leung Fuk-yuen
Leung Fuk-yuen. Photo: Now TV screenshot.

“We’ve contacted barristers to see how we can help them with their appeal… The amount is just over a hundred thousand dollars, and they’ve been sentenced to three years’ in prison,” Shap Pat Heung Rural Committee chairman Leung Fuk-yuen said. He also said that the crime did not warrant such long jail terms, “especially when they’ve been given a legal declaration informing them it’s not a crime.”

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.