The handing down of the verdict in the case against an elderly man accused of playing a popular protest song on a traditional Chinese instrument in public without a permit has been adjourned for a month.

Li Jiexin, who is suspected of playing an erhu at the Tung Chung Town Centre bus terminus without a permit on April 29, appeared in front of Deputy Magistrate Felix Tam at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Friday. He did not have a legal representative.

Defendant Li Jiexin. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Li was initially cleared of the charge after Tam ruled that the prosecutors did not produce enough evidence to make their case. Tam, however, later revoked that decision, saying it was the defence who must bear the burden of proof, not the prosecution.

During his submission and cross examination by the prosecutor, the 68-year-old defendant did not refute playing the traditional Chinese instrument on that day, but he did deny playing it specifically between 5:06 p.m. and 5:29 p.m. – the time marked on the ticket he was issued.

The prosecution put to Li that the spot where he played the erhu was a busy spot, it was during peak hour, the music he was playing through a speaker was loud and that his belongings took up an area of the pavement. The prosecutor, an external barrister surnamed Yu, said that Li did not have any lawful authority or excuse for those acts.

Li said he disagreed with all of that.

He said he did not obstruct anyone because the area he chose was “very spacious.” He also claimed that even if he turned up the volume of the speaker to the highest level, “it would be less than half [of the noise produced by] a bus” when its engine was ignited.

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

The defendant, who spoke Mandarin, said he had tried to obtain a permit for street performances from the police last year but to no avail.

“I respect the law. I did [what was required]. But the response was disappointing. This ordinance is a fake ordinance,” Li told the court. He said there were numerous street performers in Hong Kong and questioned how many had been prosecuted by authorities for not having a permit.

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.

Irrelevant to politics

During the hearing, the defendant said it was “clear” to him that some people may think the song he performed that day was a “sensitive” one.

“For me as a performer, these songs have nothing to do with politics. I only know ‘do re mi fa so la ti do,'” he said, referring to the musical scale.

File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The song Glory to Hong Kong, which was 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.

Verdict adjourned

During his closing submission, Li apologised to the court and to the public, saying “it was a regret that many resources had been wasted” over what he called a “tedious case.” He also apologised for calling the provision a “fake ordinance.”

The deputy magistrate said he needed time to consider some legal issues and the evidence so he adjourned the case to October 3 for the verdict.

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Almond Li

Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.