The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) has decided to drop its charges against a 75-year-old woman for selling a piece of cardboard for HK$1.

The woman, surnamed Chu, was charged with unlicensed hawking and obstructing public space after she gave a cardboard box to a foreign domestic worker in Central in exchange of HK$1 on June 11.

lai chi keong
District councillor Lai Chi-keong met with Ms. Chu. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

The arrest triggered a media storm and a public outcry, with critics accusing the FEHD of selectively enforcing the law against poor and elderly people. On Monday, the Civic Party handed a petition letter with over 14,000 signatures to an FEHD representative, calling on the department to drop the charges against Chu.

The FEHD said Monday that it decided to drop the case after considering Chu’s background and seeking legal advice from the Department of Justice.

It said it is committed to ensuring a hygienic environment by taking enforcement action appropriately against unlicensed hawking activities.

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

Chu is a widow who has shouldered the responsibility of caring for her daughter who has recently been diagnosed with stage-three cancer. She refuses to receive social welfare, insisting on working as a temporary street sweeper and collecting cardboard despite passing the retirement age.

Around 30 people staged a protest outside an FEHD office on Sunday, calling the department “cold-blooded.”

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Photo: InMedia.

But a former principal hawker control officer surnamed Lau said on a radio show on Monday that lawmakers and district councillors must review existing policies, rather than leaving the matter to frontline law enforcement agents to decide.

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

“Dropping the charges will not solve the issue. Lawmakers should fully review the policies and laws,” he said.

He added that it is unfair to accuse public hygiene officers of being bullies. “Frontline law enforcement agents are implementing laws written by society and lawmakers. Our duty is to do what the law tells us to,” he said.

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