Politics

'Responsible' activists fined over protest

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2012, 12:00am

Two members of the League of Social Democrats were let off with fines in a court ruling yesterday that described them as acting responsibly during an anti-budget protest that blocked major roads in Central last year.

In addition to the fines, the magistrate gave the activists some advice: find their own way to express their beliefs, rather than simply borrowing the words of historical heroes such as Mohandas Gandhi.

Andrew To Kwan-hang, 46, an accountant and former league chairman, was fined HK$2,000 in Eastern Court after he pleaded guilty to one count each of helping to organise an unauthorised assembly and taking part in it.

Fellow member Raphael Wong Ho-ming, a 24-year-old clerk, was fined half that amount on the same charges.

In imposing the lenient sentences, Deputy Magistrate Winston Leung Wing-chung said he appreciated Wong and To's willingness to plead guilty right away, instead of 'making use of the order of the court as a political stage to launch attacks against others'.

Leung also acknowledged that the defendants were non-violent in their protest.

To and Wong took part in an afternoon rally on March 6 last year that saw thousands demonstrate against the government's approach to distributing HK$6,000 handouts to permanent residents over 18 years old, and its lack of specific help for needy groups in the community.

Police approved the march from Chater Garden to the then government headquarters in Central, which had been organised by the pan-democrat political parties. But the protest continued into the night as more than 100 people occupied a few road lanes, first on Queen's Road Central, then on Des Voeux Road Central, claiming the government refused to hold talks with them.

Police used pepper spray to disperse the gathering, arresting 113 people and issued warning letters to them. Four were eventually prosecuted.

The prosecutor said the change in the protest action had not been authorised.

But the magistrate recognised the night assembly was a continuation of the legitimate demonstration rather than a sudden mass gathering in Central.

He also said it was responsible of Wong and To to stay behind and take care of those who refused to leave.

'Overall, the two of you are not that bad. You were responsible people,' he said.

'But you must take public interest into account. You cannot trample on [the interests of] others for the sake of doing what you think is right.

'You have been comparing your act to what Gandhi said in the past,' Leung said, referring to To's argument in mitigation that a confrontational stance was necessary in an undemocratic society. 'What's most important is that you understand that your way of expression has to be acceptable to the public. Do something that generations to come will say, 'You're right'.'

The prosecution offered no evidence against the other two defendants, Ip Ho-yee and Bobo Yip Po-lam, who were bound over for the sum of HK$5,000 for one year.