A pro-Beijing lawmaker has suggested implementing monetary fines for insulting the police, as major police unions and pro-establishment figures renewed calls for criminalising the act in recent weeks.

In response, a pro-democracy lawmaker has decried the lack of an equivalent penalty for police officers who insult members of the public, and the lack of follow-up action concerning complaints against police.

lam cheuk ting
Priscilla Leung (left) and Lam Cheuk-ting (right). Photo: RTHK screenshot.

At a panel discussion hosted by RTHK on Sunday, legislator Priscilla Leung said that the punishment for insulting the police would not necessarily be imprisonment, but could start with a monetary fine. “As an example, we can talk about not wearing a seat belt in the back seat… or how we should not litter on the street.”

“[The crime] can maybe be punished with a fine. Like if we spit, or jaywalk, or don’t carry our identity cards – it’s a way of letting society know that this behaviour is unacceptable.”

Since the imprisonment of seven police officers two weeks ago for assaulting activist Ken Tsang during the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests, a number of police union leaders and pro-Beijing figures have publicly suggested criminalising the act of insulting the police.

The proposal had first been raised at the time of the 2014 protests, and emerged as a key theme of a recent rally supporting the seven convicted officers, attended by 33,000 people.

police rally
Police rally on February 22. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

‘Insulting the public’

In response, pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said he believed that enacting a law against insulting the police would only increase tensions between the force and the public. He asked whether an equivalent law against “insulting the public” should also be passed.

Lam also questioned the scope of the proposal, asking whether other public officials – including the host of Sunday’s government-owned RTHK forum – should be afforded the same protection as the police against insults.

He said that the failure of the police complaints system was a reason why tensions have arisen: “Now that [the board of the] Independent Police Complaints Council is monopolised by the pro-establishment, some very reasonable complaints are constantly delayed, and the verdicts are very unreasonable.”

“This destroys the confidence of the public in complaining,” he added.

police rally
Police rally on February 22. Photo: HKFP/Kris Cheng.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Leung did not respond directly to a question as to whether criminalising insults against the police would help to alleviate tensions between the police and the public. “[A monetary fine] would help to guide society towards a better environment for discussing issues,” she said.

Another pro-Beijing figure at the conference, barrister Lawrence Ma, responded that people who occupied the streets and threw bricks were not members of the public, but were criminals.

“The relationship between police and criminals will always be confrontational,” he said.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.