A Hong Kong man has been cleared of performing a 2019 protest song on an erhu in public without a police permit, after a local court ruled that the prosecutors did not produce enough evidence to make their case. The defendant was given HK$500 court fees in return.

West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts
West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Deputy Magistrate Felix Tam on Monday ruled that prosecutors failed to present sufficient proof to build a case against 68-year-old Li Jiexin, who faced one charge of playing a musical instrument at the Tung Chung Town Centre Bus Terminus on April 29 without a permit.

The retired man was said to have performed Glory to Hong Kong on the two-stringed Chinese instrument at the bus stop. The song, released in September 2019 by a group of anonymous composers, has been dubbed the unofficial anthem of the months-long unrest sparked by a proposed amendment to the city’s extradition bill.

Li pleaded not guilty to the offence last month.

The prosecution on Monday called only one of their four witnesses – a senior police constable surnamed Ng from the Lantau North Division. The officer said he arrived at the terminus in plainclothes to handle a noise complaint against a man, whom he later identified as Li in court.

According to Ng, the defendant held a erhu and a bow and had a loudspeaker next to him that played the protest song repeatedly. There was also an opened erhu case placed in front of Li with some money inside, the officer said. Ng and three uniform officers later approached Li and asked him to present his identity card.

Tung Chung Town Centre Bus Terminus
Tung Chung Town Centre Bus Terminus. File photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The prosecution originally played footage from a police body camera filmed by an auxiliary officer at the scene, but the video was later removed from the evidence list, after the deputy magistrate questioned its relevance and asked why some parts of video had not been redacted.

The Mandarin-speaking defendant had no legal representative and conducted cross-examination of the prosecution’s witness on his own, with interpretation provided by the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts.

The retiree asked the police officer which song was played at the scene, and the nature of the song. But Tam instructed the witness not to give an answer, saying the question was not relevant to the alleged offence. The case was about whether the defendant had obtained approval from the police chief before playing erhu in public, and the song that was played did not matter, the deputy magistrate said.

“That means it has nothing to do with politics,” Li said, after he told Tam that he understood the court’s direction. He also denied all evidence provided by the prosecution.

Tam responded by saying that court proceedings in Hong Kong were never influenced by politics.

Glory to Hong Kong
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

After taking a recess of around 20 mins to review the prosecution’s case and evidence presented before him, Tam ruled that the prosecution had failed to provide enough proof to support all elements of the charge.

The deputy magistrate said the court only heard evidence showing Li had played erhu at the time of the alleged offence, but the prosecutor did not produce evidence indicating whether Li had secured a permit from the police commissioner to play his musical instrument in public. The defendant therefore had no case to answer, Tam said, and ordered Li to be paid HK$500 for his legal costs.

According to section 4 (15) of the Summary Offences Ordinance, any person who without lawful authority or excuse plays any musical instrument in any public street or road save under and in accordance with the conditions of a permit from the Commissioner of Police shall be liable to HK$2,000 fine or imprisonment of three months.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.