A Hong Kong court has rejected an appeal from eight democrats convicted and sentenced for breaching Covid-19 social distancing rules over a Labour Day protest in 2020.

The appeal was filed by Kwok Wing-kin, Stanley Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan, and Mak Tak-ching of the Labour Party, and the League of Social Democrat’s (LSD) Avery Ng, “the Bull” Tsang Kin-shing, Raphael Wong, and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung.

Raphael Wong (left) of the League of Social Democrats outside the High Court on October 18, 2022. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The eight democrats were convicted by magistrate Cheang Kei-hong in March last year of violating social gathering limits after marching in two groups of four to the government’s headquarters in Admiralty as part of a Labour Day protest in 2020.

The case was the first trial involving an alleged violation of the limit on group gatherings of more than four people. Cheang handed the group a 14-day prison term, with the sentence suspended for 18 months. Mak was also ordered to pay a HK$2,000 fine for refusing to show his ID card to police officers.

Lawyers representing the group argued during an appeal hearing in July that their conviction was a disproportional restriction of their rights and freedoms.

The Department of Justice argued in return that the court should consider “a series of factors,” including whether the groups shared a “common purpose,” whether there was any prior organisation or interactions between the two groups, and the duration of the gathering.

In a judgement published on Tuesday, Albert Wong upheld the magistrate’s ruling that the eight shared a “common purpose” and that regardless of whether they had maintained a 1.5-metre distance, the two groups were close to each other.

The High Court. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Wong wrote that it was clear they had intended to gather and “it is only in their minds that their actions were not considered as gathering under the law.”

Wong also ruled that there was no question over the police action that day, that there were other means for the group to express their demands, and even if they had to march, all eight did not have to do so together.

“Although there had been no local infections for many days prior to that day… the pandemic situation has been back and forth, and there was no expert advice saying that the outlook was optimistic,” the judge wrote.

Wong also upheld the magistrate’s sentencing, and said that Cheang’s decision was “sensible and reasonable in general.”

Calls to remove Covid-19 restrictions

Raphael Wong, ex-chairperson of the LSD, told reporters outside the High Court following Wong’s ruling that he needed more time to study the judgement, and consider whether to file another appeal.

Tsang Kin-shing at the High Court on October 18, 2022. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“I had no expectation. It was not the matter of whether I had confidence in the judge, it was that I had no expectation of the rather conservative culture of the Judiciary,” said Wong.

The ex-chair also said that what was important now was removing group gathering limits and relaxing social-distancing restrictions.

“Stop saying that we’re ‘lying flat,’ none of us are ‘lying flat,’ the vaccination rate of people who have received two jabs is over 90 per cent, and over 80 per cent have had three jabs, it’s comparable to other European, American, and Asian cities and countries,” he said. “Lying flat” is a term that originated in mainland China to mean doing as little as possible. 

Wong urged the government to provide the public with a timetable for the city’s path to normalcy, saying that insistence of strict Covid-19 limits was “unreasonable” and “harmful” to people’s livelihoods, as Hong Kong has over 260,000 unemployed or underemployed people.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.