Attack on pro-independence activist 'infringed his freedom of speech'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 July, 2014, 7:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 July, 2014, 3:43am

An assault on a pro-independence activist who trespassed at a military barracks was nothing less than an infringement of the right to free speech, a magistrate said yesterday.

Chan Ngok-yuen yesterday pleaded guilty to one count of common assault in Eastern Court, just metres from the spot where he slapped Billy Chiu Hin-chung when Chiu appeared before the court last month.

Principal Magistrate Bina Chainrai said: "This is a serious offence, because it infringed someone else's freedom of speech."

The court heard that Chan slapped Chiu as he arrived at court on June 19 to be sentenced for illegally entering the People's Liberation Army's Central barracks. Chiu, founder of pro-independence group Hongkongese Priority, was chanting slogans and waving banners with fellow activists when Chan approached him and slapped him twice on the face, causing Chiu to lose his balance and fall to the ground.

After receiving a suspended sentence for the incursion at the barracks, Chiu went to hospital for a check-up.

Defence counsel Patrick Tam Kin-yip told the court the offence was an isolated incident, and that his client carried out the attack "out of momentary impulse".

He said Chan, who was walking by the court, was upset after hearing the victim call for independence for Hong Kong. But Chainrai asked: "The fact that it took place outside the court is not an aggravating factor?"

Tam replied that Chiu's injury was not serious, and that his client had admitted the offence to police under caution. However, the court was told that Chan did not express regret when questioned by police.

There was confusion over Chan's profession. The magistrate was told yesterday that the defendant worked at a funeral parlour, while a document given to the court said he was retired. Tam said his client did some freelance shifts.

Chainrai ordered reports on the suitability of probation and community service. She adjourned sentencing to August 13.

Outside court, Chan was greeted by a crowd of supporters wearing T-shirts and badges indicating their opposition to the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement. They yelled slogans of support for the defendant.

Chan was ushered to a waiting seven-seater vehicle and driven away.