Five members of the League of Social Democrats (LSD), one of the few pro-democracy groups that remains active in Hong Kong, have each been fined HK$4,500 for breaching the Covid-19 public gathering restriction during a protest in 2020.

League of Social Democrats members (from left) Chan Po-ying and Tsang Kin-shing at Eastern Law Courts Building on November 22, 2022. File photo: Kyle Lam.

The group’s chairperson Chan Po-ying, former leader Raphael Wong, and members Chau Shu-wing and Tsang Kin-shing appeared in front of Magistrate Philip Chan at the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts on Wednesday, local media reported.

The four, together with former lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, pleaded guilty to “participating in [a] prohibited group gathering” in Wan Chai on April 30, 2020. At the time, there was a four-person limit on public gatherings.

Leung did not appear in front of the magistrate as he is among 16 pro-democracy figures who pleaded not-guilty to conspiring to commit conspiracy and is on trial in the city’s largest national security case.

Philip Chan said Leung had written to the court on Monday and indicated that he would plead guilty to violating the group gathering ban. The magistrate accepted the defendant’s written plea and ruled that Leung’s wife, Chan Po-ying, would pay his fine.

Leung Kwok-hung. File photo: Joshua Kwan/United Social Press.

When entering his plea, Raphael Wong said “I admit that I violated the law but I did not act against my conscience.”

Both Chan Po-ying and Chau said they had maintained a safe distance of 1.5 metres apart during the rally, and that they “have no choice but to plead guilty.”

Tsang also said he had no other choice because the High Court has ruled that people sharing a “common purpose” can be convicted under the gathering restriction regardless of whether they kept a 1.5 metre distance.

“Is a common purpose a means of [virus] transmission?” Tsang asked.

The plea hearing of the LSD members was adjourned from November to await the results of a bid to challenge a separate conviction of eight members of the LSD and the Labour Party under the same Covid-19 rule at the city’s top court.

The application was denied on December 29 – the same day that Hong Kong scrapped the group gathering ban together with a number of other Covid-19 restrictions. The city still mandates wearing a mask in all public places, including outdoors.

Mitigation

Wong, who represented himself at the hearing, said people “shall not be deprived of the right to peaceful protests” during his mitigation.

The former LSD chairperson said he disagreed with the High Court’s decision, but added that he would willingly accept the court’s judgement.

A banner warning against group gatherings. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP

The defence representing Chan Po-ying, Chau and Tsang said the three defendants did not challenge the law on purpose and had truly believed that their actions were not in breach of Covid-19 restrictions at that time.

The magistrate then sentenced each defendant to a fine of HK$4,500.

4 union volunteers pleaded not guilty

Four volunteers under the Construction Site Workers General Union, a former subsidiary of the defunct pro-democracy union coalition the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, also appeared on Wednesday over charges under the same Covid-19 regulation.

Tsang Ho-yuen, Yung Ka-man, Wong Chun-yu and May Lam pleaded not guilty to their alleged violation of the group gathering ban.

They were issued penalties when handing out anti-epidemic supplies and leaflets at a street booth in Admiralty on May 6, 2020, with six others, who have already pleaded guilty.

The four will appear in court for trial on May 8.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.