An elderly Hong Kong woman faces a potential fine of up to HK$5,000 and prison time after she was charged by the government for selling a piece of cardboard for HK$1 without a licence.

Civic Party district councillor Lai Chi-keong posted a mitigation letter he wrote to the court on Wednesday night, saying that the 75-year-old suffered from various diseases and ailments.

Lai told local outlet Stand News that the elderly woman, surnamed Chu, had a job as a contract cleaning worker. But she also collected and sold cardboard on the streets to supplement her income.

She was recently charged with unlicensed hawking by a Food and Environmental Hygiene Department officer in Central, after the officer saw her sell a piece of cardboard to a domestic worker for HK$1. Lai said that the officer ignored her pleas for leniency.

Under the Public Hygiene and Municipal Services Ordinance, first convictions of unlicensed hawking carry a maximum monetary penalty of HK$5,000 and one month in prison. Subsequent convictions carry a maximum penalty of HK$10,000 and six months behind bars.

Chu sought help from Lai, who said she has to attend trial at the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts next Wednesday.

See also: Elderly man accused of offering free bike repairs celebrates with handstand as charges are dropped

“75-year-old Mrs Chu suffers from various ailments,” wrote the district councillor in his mitigation letter. “These include: the ‘three highs’ [blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol], arthritis causing her fingers to bend, nasal inflammation and stomach sickness.”

“Even though she is poor, she is determined to stand up on her own, not receive social welfare and earn an income by selling cardboard.”

File photo: Eastern Law Courts Building.

“Now she is spending the rest of her days in fear due to the penalty and her [confiscated] hand-pulled cart, which she borrowed from somebody else.”

“I hope your honour will sympathise with a poor elderly person who is unable to find other work and suffers from a difficult life situation, and will treat this case leniently.”

See also: In Pictures: The Easter resurrection of Sham Shui Po’s street food hawkers

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has often attracted criticism for charging or fining poor or homeless people collecting refuse. Last January, Apple Daily reported that a man was fined for littering by department officials after placing cardboard boxes next to a rubbish bin so that poor people could collect them.

In 2013, passers-by called the police to prevent department officials from confiscating the belongings of a refuse collector, whom they accused of street obstruction.

Update 19/6: The location of Chu’s arrest was changed to Central after further information emerged. 

Elson Tong

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