Police to discuss impact of protests with district councils

Consultations to start before year-end and are aimed at striking better balance between protesters and district residents, says police commissioner

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 6:41pm

Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung said the force would start consulting district councils on the impact of demonstrations on residents, a move that rally organisers fear will further restrict freedom of assembly.

Tsang rejected suggestions that political considerations were behind the record number of protesters charged last year under the Public Order Ordinance, which carries harsher penalties than other laws commonly used in such situations.

The South China Morning Post reported last Saturday that police laid charges under the tougher ordinance against 45 protesters last year, compared with a total of 39 between 1997 and 2010.

Tsang said police consulted with the Department of Justice before laying charges.

"Why did the figures rise? The simplest answer is there is an increase in illegal behaviour [during protests]," he said.

To strike a better balance between protesters and residents, Tsang said consultations would start within the year, beginning with the Wan Chai District Council because the neighbourhood was often the scene of large demonstrations.

But he did not say if the plan would be extended to other districts such as Central and Western, where rallies also take place frequently.

Tsang said police used to depend only on their own observations and judgment in handling protest applications.

"We have heard many different voices and demands, and we think it would better help us facilitate the arrangement of these activities if we could listen to district councils' opinions more directly," he said after attending the Wan Chai council meeting. During the meeting, many district councillors expressed concerns about how frequent demonstrations in the area impact on residents' daily lives.

The annual June 4 candlelight vigil and July 1 rally both take place in the district.

Tsang pledged police would consult the council on arrangements like the protest routes for all large demonstrations.

But Andrew Shum Wai-nam, a member of the Civil Human Rights Front, said many district councils were dominated by members of pro-establishment parties.

Shum's group is the organiser of the July 1 rally.

"It gives us the impression that police are using this so-called 'residents' voice' to further suppress freedom of speech and assembly," he said.

Independent Wan Chai district councillor Cheng Ki-kin said the council could be a buffer between protest organisers and police if the force took its advice into account. He said he often received complaints from residents that protesters made noise, blocked roads and affected the business of shops nearby.

"Some protest groups say the police suppress them. If we tell them [residents' concerns], it may be easier for them to accept," he said.

The 45 police laid charges under the Public Order Ordinance last year were among 444 protesters arrested and 54 prosecuted in total, police figures showed.

The number of public meetings and processions increased from 1,190 in 1997 to 6,878 last year.