Pro-democracy lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung was sentenced to seven days in jail on Monday for disrupting a school debating event last year when he and People Power politician Tam Tak-chi led a protest against Chief Secretary Carrie Lam.

The pair demanded universal suffrage and the withdrawal of Beijing’s decision to ban open elections in Hong Kong. They were found guilty of “wilfully obstructing, disturbing, interrupting or annoying” others in their lawful use of a civic centre, contrary to the Civil Centres Regulation.

Leung Kwok-hung
Leung Kwok-hung. File Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Tam was given a seven days’ prison term, suspended for 12 months. Leung was freed on HK$4,000 cash bail. Both will be lodging an appeal to the ruling.

“People often say they respect the courts’ decisions after the verdict… but this is no longer true from today onwards,” Tam said outside the court. “Not all rulings of the courts should be respected. I will not respect the magistrate’s judgment.”

Leung said the ruling was unreasonable, as it was a peaceful protest directed only at the chief secretary. He also criticised acting principal magistrate Joseph To Ho-shing, who handed down the judgment, for being biased.

The lawmaker said the magistrate had previously detained his party colleague Ma Wan-ki and rejected his bail request after convicting him of attempting to burn the regional flag, but before sentencing. However, To later fined a pro-Beijing activist only HK$1,500 for hitting a reporter on the head during a protest. He claimed the cases showed To was biased.

Tam Tak-chi
Tam Tak-chi. Photo: Tam Tak-chi, via Facebook.

To rejected Leung’s request, saying that Leung failed to explain how an unfair trial would occur. The magistrate said that members of the judiciary value constructive criticism.

Limitations on protest

In handing down the judgment on Monday, To rejected Leung’s argument that the debate organisers had violated the activists’ right to protest.

To said there are limitations on the right to protest under Article 17 of the Bill of Rights Ordinance, which stipulates that the right of peaceful assembly may be restricted in order to protect the rights and freedoms of others.

He said everyone is equal before the law and the pair’s conduct had violated the rights of some 2,000 participants, who are entitled to freedom of speech and of peaceful assembly.

The magistrate added that the organisers spent more than a year planning the debating event, and had to cancel part of the programme as a result of the demonstration. There were also other opportunities for the activists to protest, whereas the debate was a one-time event for the participants, To said.

Carrie Lam
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam. File Photo: Chantal Yuen/HKFP.

Carrie Lam commented on the case on Tuesday, saying that the unlawful conduct of lawmakers is not protected under the law, and the government will treat each case seriously. She added that the rights of protesters should not be protected at the expense of the rights and freedoms of others.

Last May, Lam attended the 30th Sing Tao Inter-School Debating Competition at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium. Dozens of protesters chanted slogans and threw paper balls at Lam when she entered the venue, and disrupted the speeches of other guests. Lam left the venue early before giving a speech.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.