Judge fines 5 Citizens' Radio activists in civil contempt of court case

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2009, 12:00am

Five Citizens' Radio activists and the operator of the unlicensed station have each been ordered to pay a fine of HK$10,000 and contribute HK$50,000 to the government's HK$1.44 million legal bill, in a civil contempt of court case.

The broadcasters have already been fined in criminal proceedings.

The government applied for the order given yesterday when the criminal charges, brought under the Telecommunications Ordinance, stalled because a magistrate in January last year held the provisions in the ordinance unconstitutional. The criminal charges went ahead when the magistrate's order was suspended.

Yesterday, Mr Justice Michael Hartmann, sitting in the Court of First Instance, ordered the civil penalties after finding on Monday that the activists had been in contempt when they defied an injunction last year banning them from broadcasting for eight days.

Hartmann said, however, that the civil penalties were unnecessary because of the criminal ones, under which the broadcasters were fined HK$3,000 to HK$12,000 on unlicensed broadcasting charges on November 9.

Yesterday's order means that the activists - lawmaker 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung, Tsang Kin-shing, Lo Hom-chau, Poon Tat-keung and Yang Kuang - and operator Ocean Technology - must together pay an additional HK$360,000.

The HK$1.44 million legal bill covered counsel fees including HK$778,800 for Jat Sew-tong SC, who acted for the government in the contempt proceedings.

The activists admitted before Hartmann on Monday that they had defied the injunction, issued in January last year. Hartmann said he found it very unusual that the government, despite the criminal law, had urgently instituted the civil procedure to obtain the injunction to restrain the unlicensed broadcasts.

He found that the activists had acted in accordance with 'the principles that had guided their lives', but he also held that civil society could break down if people simply disobeyed court orders because they thought the orders prejudiced their causes. In his ruling, he said he understood the frustration of the activists but emphasised that anyone who refused to obey a court order would be held accountable even if there was good faith behind the breach.

The eight-day injunction had been granted by Mr Justice Barnabas Fung Wah at Jat's request on January 10 last year.

The activists said they had been fighting for the protection of their fundamental rights to free speech and that they had broadcast on the evening of January 10 to encourage more people to join a march on January 13 to fight for universal suffrage.