Eight members from the League of Social Democrats (LSD) and the Labour Party were sentenced to 14-days imprisonment and an 18-month suspended sentence by the Eastern Magistrate’s court on Wednesday over two four-person protests on May 1 last year.
The case marks the first time a Hong Kong court has handed down a sentence over breaches of Covid-19 social distancing regulations during a political demonstration.
The Labour Party’s Lee Cheuk-yan and the LSD’s “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung were among the eight convicted. The two veteran activists are defendants in an ongoing trial for charges relating to an unauthorized assembly in August 2019. Leung is currently remanded in custody after being charged with subversion under the national security law along with 46 others.
Others sentenced on Wednesday include the Labour Party’s Kwok Wing-kin, Stanley Ho Wai-hong and Mak Tak-ching as well as the LSD’s Avery Ng, Raphael Wong and Tsang Kin-shing.
On Labour Day last May, the eight activists from the two political groups took turns in groups of four to protest outside the Central Government Offices to demand the authorities provide unemployment assistance during the pandemic. Pandemic regulations imposed a four-person limit on outdoor gatherings at the time.
The group were given penalty tickets under pandemic social gathering regulations by police officers at the time.
During the trial, Magistrate Cheang Kei-hong said that the eight had been standing closer than 1.5 metres apart after reviewing video footage of the protest.
One of the defendants, Mak Tak-ching, was also ordered to pay an additional HK$2,000 fine for refusing to show his ID card to police officers.
Ng told reporters outside court on Wednesday that the government was using pandemic social gathering restrictions to quash the people’s right to protest while it does nothing about the long queues and crowds at the city’s shopping centres.
“Does the economy matter more to this government than its citizens?” he asked. “If Hongkongers go out in masses to shop or eat at restaurants, there’s no problem — as long as it helps businesses. But when we simply say a few phrases asking the government for unemployment assistance to help working class people who have lost their jobs – that’s not allowed?”
He also said the group was consulting with lawyers over whether to appeal the magistrate’s decision.
Hong Kong’s unemployment rate reached 6.6 per cent in the last quarter of 2020 — the highest in 16 years, with around 245,000 people left without an income.
Lee said he feared the sentencing over pandemic regulations will have a deterrent effect. “The thing that upsets me most is that others who are also charged for violating social distancing rules will be scared [the magistrate] and not fight, he sacrificed us to force others to not dare to defend themselves,” he posted onto his Facebook page following the sentence.
Correction 17/3: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ng was chair of the LSD. Raphael Wong is chair.