HK protests: opposition politician arrested under colonial-era offence of sedition after Facebook post about police officer

27-Mar-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

An opposition politician was arrested under the colonial-era offence of sedition early on Thursday morning, over an online post which criticised a police officer who shot a journalist, and called for “an eye for an eye”.

The force was also investigating whether Cheng Lai-king, who chairs Central and Western District Council, breached a court injunction banning the doxxing of police officers and their families. Meanwhile, Cheng’s party colleagues decried what they said was an act of revenge over her recent clashes with police.

The 61-year-old was arrested a day after she forwarded a Facebook post that detailed the name and identification number of an officer said to have shot an Indonesian journalist with a non-lethal projectile during an anti-government protest in Wan Chai in September. She left the police station on Thursday afternoon.

Superintendent Swalikh Mohammed, of the cybersecurity and technology crime bureau, confirmed to the media that a woman in her 60s was arrested on suspicion of seditious acts, in a case linked to online posts that contained personal information of an officer and his family members.

The offence, which carries a punishment of two years in prison or a fine of HK$5,000 for the first violation, has been rarely used in the past 50 years.

“The case is still under investigation, and we will also study if she has contravened the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance and seek the Department of Justice’s advice on whether there is a [criminal] contempt of court for violation of two High Court interim injunction orders,” Mohammed said.

He did not spell out the alleged seditious intent involved, but mentioned potential incitement of “hatred or violence”.

Cheng, a member of the Democratic Party, wrote in the post o Wednesday: “If this officer still has good conscience, please turn yourself in. An eye for an eye!” She was arrested during Thursday’s early hours.

At around noon on Thursday, dozens of members of the Democratic Party, Central and Western District Council and other district councils gathered outside Kwai Chung Police Station, demanding Cheng’s immediate release and accusing the police of arbitrary arrest. Cheng left the station at 2.10pm, thanking supporters for their concern.

“The sedition charge has nothing to do with the violation of the injunction… it is unconstitutional,” said legislator Ted Hui Chi-fung, also of the Democratic Party. “The police are probably using public office to avenge private wrongs.”

He said the arrest was revenge for Cheng’s clashes with police at district council meetings.

Mohammed denied any political consideration, and stressed doxxing itself was a threat to social order.

The crime of sedition passed into law in 1938, during the British colonial era. The offence prohibits seditious acts or even the use of “any seditious words”. Last amended in the 1970s, it has been used rarely since the 1967 riots.

Seditious intention is defined broadly under the law as to “bring into hatred or contempt or disaffection against” the government, or “to incite other persons to violence”.

Police have cited Cheng’s demand that the officer turn himself in and declaration of “an eye for an eye” as incitements to violence, a legal source said.

But the law also defines speech or acts as non-seditious if they aim to “point out errors or defects in the government… with a view to the remedying of such errors or defects”, or to persuade people to change the situation by lawful means.

It also requires that the prosecution prove incitement of violence to endanger the stability of the sovereign state or Hong Kong.

In 1996, ahead of the handover, both the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Hong Kong Law Society supported the offence’s abolition, the former saying the law was not in keeping with modern values of freedom of thought, expression and political rights.

Fred Ho Chun-ki, Cheng’s lawyer, who is also from the Democratic Party, confirmed police had arrested Cheng on suspicion of a seditious act and violation of an injunction order.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Elisabeth Quat said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that she had complained to the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data about Cheng violating the injunction.

On Thursday, the privacy watchdog said it had referred the matter to the Department of Justice.

Cheng, who has held her seat on the council since 1994, became chairwoman after the pro-democracy camp’s landslide victory in local elections last November.

She won praise from allies when she chaired a meeting in January, which police chief Chris Tang Ping-keung attended, where she ordered police officers who did not wear their identity cards to leave the room.

The High Court granted an interim injunction in October to help protect police from harassment by banning the publication of officers’ personal details amid months of increasingly violent anti-government protests.

The demonstrations, which were triggered last June by a now-withdrawn extradition bill, later morphed into a wider anti-government movement that included calls for more democracy and an independent inquiry into police’s handling of the protests.

Veby Mega Indah, the journalist shot in the September incident Cheng was referring to, was left blind in one eye. She has taken legal action to force the police commissioner to reveal the identity of the officer.

The application for the injunction order, filed by the Department of Justice, was a move by police to counter malicious, public displays of officers’ personal data, which it said had also hurt their families.

The scope of the order was extended in December to also cover police special constables, who were enlisted from the customs, immigration and correctional services departments to help ease the burden on the stretched force.

The order also barred anyone from “intimidating, molesting, harassing, threatening, pestering or interfering with” police officers and their families.

Complaints received by the privacy watchdog had shot up from 57 in 2018 to a staggering 4,370 by the end of last year. About 36 per cent, or 1,580 cases, involved unauthorised disclosure of personal data belonging to police officers and their families, while 20 per cent, or 873 cases, concerned doxxing of protesters.


Category: Hong Kong

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