I am indebted to a kind reader who brought up an interesting aspect of police procedure in cases with what we might call a political flavour.

The Occupy Nine were, we were told, all arrested at various times between two and three years after the events which led to them being charged. Why? This is a good question. If the police catch you red-handed of course they will arrest you and keep you in custody while they sort out who you are and what exactly they are going to charge you with.

umbrella movement occupy trial
File Photo: inmediahk.net.

If on the other hand, you are a well-established citizen whose address is known to anyone who is interested, then this is not necessary. The prosecution can simply send you a summons to appear in court on the relevant date. Why arrest someone who does not need to be arrested and is unlikely to get a custodial sentence anyway?

This brings us to the case of Mr Tony Chung. Mr Chung was among a crowd in the Legislative Council building’s “protest zone” objecting to the proposed change in Hong Kong’s extradition laws. On this occasion, last Tuesday, the usual efforts to keep protestors separate from counter-protestors were not made or were not successful.

We can infer this from the fact that Mr Chung came into contact with a copy of the national flag and the pole on which it was being waved by someone who thoroughly approved of the law change.

We are now told that it is alleged that Mr Chung tore the flag off the pole and broke the pole, though this seems a bit excessive. If the flag came off why did the pole break? Without seeking in any way to prejudice the approaching trial of the matter we may also wonder what the pole was doing when he managed to grab it.

Anyway, it was apparently decided to charge Mr Chung with criminal damage. This is a Mickey Mouse offence generally involving a short appearance before a magistrate and a fine.

Tony Chung Hon-lam
Tony Chung Hon-lam. Photo: HKFP.

However, the forces of order swung into action. At 8.00am the next morning they were at Mr Chung’s home, arrested him and took him to Central Police Station, where he was held until 3.45pm that afternoon when he was released on police bail in the princely sum of HK$500.

This was actually a flagrant violation of the Police force’s own rules, as explained in the official “Guidance to an Arrested Person on Arrest and Detention,” which states that “Following arrest, you will be brought before the Duty Officer of the police station covering the area in which you were arrested.”

Mr Chung lives in Yuen Long.

china flag education national basic law eddie ng
File photo: GovHK.

This little story leaves us with several interesting questions. The first one is whether this dramatic procedure was really necessary or appropriate given the rather trivial nature of the alleged offence.

The second is whether on occasions of this kind the forces of order can be expected to follow their own rules.

The third is whether the element of enforcement overkill that seems to be in play here has anything to do with the fact that Mr Chung is who he is, namely the convenor of the pro-independence group Student Localism. He is, no doubt, a regular protestor. The police know who he is and where he lives. Why the dawn swoop?

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Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.