No need to criminalise stalking, say legislators

Panel members call for protection of debtors and victims of domestic violence, but fear that a comprehensive law would go too far

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 3:36am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 3:36am

The city should draw up anti-stalking measures that protect debtors, celebrities and victims of family violence instead of having a comprehensive law, with its potential for infringing on media freedom, legislators say.

Members of the Legislative Council's constitutional affairs panel saw a need to tackle specific problems such as debt collection, but believed the city should not criminalise stalking.

They agreed with the government's move to suspend its pursuit of blanket legislation.

The community had failed to reach a consensus on such a law, undersecretary for constitutional and mainland affairs Lau Kong-wah said, though he stopped short of saying the government would shelve the proposal.

"We will take into account members' views at the panel meeting and make a final decision on the way forward," he said.

Claudia Mo Man-ching, of the Civic Party, said: "We welcome the government's move to halt plans for an anti-stalking law.

"But there are victims of stalking, such as debtors being chased by collection firms for money, tenants being forced by landlords to move out, and women being harassed by their former spouses. Why doesn't the government come up with legislative measures to protect them?"

Some debt-collecting companies use triad-linked thugs to recover arrears.

Their tactics typically involve making repeated phone calls at awkward times of the day or night. The debtor's friends, family or colleagues may also be similarly harassed. Some collectors call on the debtor's home or workplace time and again.

Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, who represents the financial services sector, shared Mo's views on protecting victims.

A securities firm had complained to Cheung about the frequent visits it had received from debt collectors looking for an employee. "The staff member had quit, but the debt collectors still went to the company, sometimes taking pictures from outside, causing serious disturbance."

Lau argued: "As a matter of legal principle, it is inappropriate to criminalise stalking behaviour only in specific relationships. The law should treat persons in the same or comparable situations equally."

He also said complaints about debt collection had fallen, from 16,186 in 2009 to 8,796 last year.

Making stalking a crime was first proposed in 2000 by the Law Reform Commission, which examines existing laws and proposes new ones.

The government launched a public consultation in late 2011. It proposed making stalking an offence punishable by up to two years' jail and a fine of up to HK$100,000.

Singers and actors are keen supporters of the proposal. They claim the lack of an anti-stalking law is the reason police seldom entertain complaints against paparazzi harassment.

But human rights and journalism groups are concerned that a law could easily be abused by the government to suppress civil rights and press freedom.