Hong Kong’s highest court has rejected an appeal from a district council over rules limiting protests at the Legislative Council.
Sai Kung district councillor Christine Fong was previously fined HK$2,000 for contravening the Legislative Council’s Administrative Instructions for Regulating Admittance and Conduct of Person, when she protested twice in May 2014. Fong displayed and chanted slogans against the the extension of the South-East New Territories landfill. The Public Works Subcommittee meetings were cut short owing to the incident.
Fong had argued on appeal that sections of the Administrative Instructions violated her right to freedom of expression, as protected by Article 27 of the Basic Law and Article 16 of the Bill of Rights.
But five judges at the Court of Final Appeal unanimously ruled that a reasonable balance had been struck between allowing the LegCo to properly to carry out its constitutional functions for the benefit of society, and the limited restrictions on the guaranteed right of freedom of expression.
At the first meeting on May 7, 2014, Fong removed her jacket to display the slogan “Defend Tseung Kwan O” on her T-shirt. She also handed to her assistant a paper poster depicting a Nazi swastika with the characters “Poison Gas Concentration Camp – Landfill.”
It led to a commotion as security guards sought to seize the sign, leading to one guard sustaining bruises on her left wrist. The meeting was prematurely adjourned.
The second meeting on May 13 was forced to move to another room after Fong and several others chanted slogans again at the conference room and ignored warnings.
In judgements by lower courts, Fong was found to be in contravention of sections 11 and 12(1) of the Administrative Instructions.
Section 11 states that “Persons entering or within the precincts of the Chamber shall behave in an orderly manner and comply with any direction given by any officer of the Council for the purpose of keeping order.”
The Court of Final Appeal rejected the argument that section 11 was invalid because it lacked legal certainty.
“When properly interpreted in the light of its context and purpose, it makes it clear what precisely a person must avoid doing,” it said.
Section 12(1) states that no person shall, in a press or public gallery of the LegCo, display any sign, message or banner.
The court also rejected the argument that the words of section 12 amounted to a blanket prohibition on the display of any sign, message or banner and thus were far too broad a restriction on the right to free expression.
“When properly interpreted, the section was aimed only at displays which entail the risk of disorder in public galleries and which may disturb LegCo sittings and the rights of others observing the proceedings,” it said.
Fong said outside the court that she respected the judgment and did not regret filing an appeal. She said the public should have their freedom of expression protected, and expressed hope that the LegCo would review its internal guidelines as they are too tight.
“I believe there is no need for the public to be completely silent inside the LegCo,” she said. “We were moderate and non-violent, we only showed slogans… The LegCo should listen to public opinion.”