How Hong Kong enforced the Covid-19 mask mandate was a “violation of freedom of speech and freedom to demonstrate,” a pro-democracy activist charged over pulling down his mask for several seconds while protesting, told a court on Monday.
Dickson Chau, vice-chair of the League of Social Democrats (LSD), appeared in front of Magistrate Peter Yu at Kowloon City Magistrates’ Courts to dispute the offence.
Chau was handed a HK$5,000 fine on February 6 for briefly removing his mask outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building, where he and two fellow members from the pro-democracy group staged protests as the landmark 47 democrats’ national security trial began. They urged the immediate release of all political prisoners, AP reported.
Chau refused to pay the fine in June, claiming that it amounted to “political oppression.”
‘Violation’ of free speech
On Monday, the prosecution said Chau was seen pulling down his mask to shout for five seconds.
Testifying for the prosecution, police officer Lee Wai-wa said in Cantonese that he was on duty to secure public order outside the West Kowloon Courts complex that morning. He was standing about three metres away when he saw Chau pull down his mask at 9.23 am. His colleagues took Chau away into a police-owned vehicle and he handed Chau a demand notice at around 9.45 am.
Chau, unrepresented by a lawyer, asked Lee whether he agreed that the situation was “rowdy” and “chaotic” on the scene. Lee agreed.
Lee also agreed that there were more than 30 police officers present to handle the protest and to maintain order.
“I do not question the constitutionality of the mask mandate,” Chau, choosing not to testify, said in Cantonese in his closing statement. “[B]ut I do question the law enforcement as breaching the proportionality principle, as this prosecution is a violation of freedom of speech and freedom to demonstrate.”
“The essence of protesting is to make one’s voice heard,” Chau said, adding that he had no choice but to pull down his mask to raise his voice, given that the scene was packed with people and police officers.
Chau cited the influential HKSAR vs Yeung May Wan case in 2005, in which the top court ruled that peaceful demonstration is a constitutional right and the courts should give such freedom a generous interpretation.
A verdict is set to be handed down on October 20.
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