Politicians, concern groups and Hong Kong citizens have rallied in support of a 75-year-old woman who was charged by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) for accepting HK$1 from a domestic worker in exchange for a piece of cardboard.

The woman, surnamed Chu, faces charges of unlicensed hawking and obstructing public space. The maximum sentence for the former charge is a HK$5,000 fine and a month in prison, while the latter carries a maximum penalty of a HK$5,000 fine or three months behind bars. She will appear before the Eastern Magistrates’ court on Wednesday.

District councillor Rayman Chow Wai Hung (centre) with a sign saying ‘$1 crime.’ Photo: InMedia.

Update: Unfair to accuse hygiene officers of bullying elderly cardboard collectors, says ex-hawker control leader

Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man told reporters on Saturday that the department would “consider whether it can accommodate both compassion and reason” when enforcing the law. On Sunday, local media reported information from unnamed sources stating that the department is re-examining the case and seeking legal opinions and that it will not rule out dropping the charges.

A protester with a sign saying ‘Ruthless government; Pitiful elders.’ Photo: InMedia.

Around 30 people gathered at the department’s offices in Sheung Wan on Sunday. Protesters carried pieces of cardboard with slogans written on them, accusing the department of “bullying a granny” and being “cold blooded.” They also pasted pieces of cardboard with demands written on them at the entrance to the office.

They asked the department to revoke the charges against Chu, return her trolley, and stop selective law enforcement against grassroots people, according to InMedia.

Photo: InMedia.

Chu said that she did not ask for money, but the worker gave her the money as a token of thanks. The officers also confiscated her pushcart.

See also: Prosecuted for selling cardboard for HK$1: The story of Hong Kong’s working elderly

Photo: InMedia.

Many have approached Civic Party District Councillor Lai Chi-keong, who publicised his mitigation letter to the court for Chu, with offers of help. Some proposed replacing her trolley or starting a crowdfunding campaign. But Chu turned them down, saying she does not want help.

Lai Chi-keong met with Ms. Chu. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

A petition launched by various groups in her support has received over 7,000 signatures, according to InMedia.

At the rally, petition organiser Au Lap-hang called on concerned citizens to gather in front of the Eastern Law Courts on Wednesday or head to their local FEHD offices to express their support for Chu.

Au Lap-hang speaking to media. Photo: InMedia.

District Councillor Rayman Chow Wai Hung criticised the FEHD for unfairly targeting grassroots citizens, such as those who have been prosecuted for selling chilli peppers and green onions on the streets.

Lawmaker Eddie Chu speaking at the rally. Photo: InMedia.

Lawmaker Eddie Chu said that elderly people are forced to collect cardboard to make ends meet because their income falls well under the minimum wage. He criticised the government for spending money on “white elephant” infrastructure projects while neglecting the needs of grassroots elderly.

Lawmaker ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung speaking at the rally. Photo: InMedia.

Meanwhile, District Councillor Lai Chi-keong, along with five lawmakers from the Civic Party, issued an open letter demanding the department drop its charges against Chu, apologise to her, and return her pushcart.

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Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.