Store 'a victim of media publicity'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2007, 12:00am

G.O.D. manager expresses shock at police raid following newspaper report

The lifestyle chain that landed in hot water yesterday for selling T-shirts bearing the name of a triad society said it was a victim of unwanted media publicity.

Cherry Ma Kit-ying, marketing manager of G.O.D. (Goods of Desire), said she was shocked at police comments to the news media, which were different from what an officer told her when her colleagues were arrested.

'When the police came into our office in the morning, they said they were only taking action in response to media pressure, and that they know we don't mean to breach the law,' she said.

Police raided G.O.D.'s headquarters in Causeway Bay yesterday morning, arresting 17 staff members - including sales personnel and designers - for selling a T-shirt imprinted with 14K in Chinese characters.

The action came one day after the Chinese-language newspaper Sing Pao ran a story about the design of the T-shirts, which have been on sale for two months.

Acting Superintendent Paul Cheng Fuk-chuen of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau admitted they acted after seeing the newspaper report but stressed that it was because the characters were similar to the logo of a triad society.

'Anyone who is found in possession of or control of any symbol relating to any triad society is against the law,' he said.

But lawyers said it would be difficult for the police to establish their case. Having made the arrest under section 20(2) of the Societies Ordinance - which prohibits anyone from professing himself a member, or from possessing any books, accounts, banners, seals or insignia relating to any triad society - police would not be able to prove their case, a veteran human rights barrister said.

'The T-shirts are goods for sale. The shops' sales staff and designers are not the owners of it, so how can you say they are claiming themselves a triad member with the T-shirt?' asked a criminal lawyer who specialises in human rights issues.

'Secondly, displaying symbols relating to a triad society is not sufficient to incriminate someone - you must also prove his connection to the gang. It is not like the T-shirt said I am a member of [the society].'

A senior government counsel who specialises in organised crime agreed the case was arguable but said it was not totally unfavourable to the police. 'If this is allowed there could also be T-shirts with logos of other societies. What if people wore them in groups? Wouldn't it serve the aim of promoting the triad, or would it constitute some sort of a representation?'

Cultural critic Leung Man-to said police were overreacting and it would not lead to self-censorship among the creative media.

'I think the police should exert basic judgment when they come to decide the difference between creative design and crime. The characters could have another meaning, such as gold.'

But fashion designer William Tang said G.O.D. must have been aware that the characters on the T-shirt had triad connotations because they had evaded using Arabic numerals that constitute the formal name of the triad society, and chose Chinese characters instead.