Hong Kong democracy activists Joshua Wong and Oscar Lai ‘had right to freedom of expression breached’ at National Day protest
Security guards removed the pair as they prepared to hold a silent demonstration in a restricted area during ceremony in 2013
Student activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Oscar Lai Man-lok had their right to freedom of expression breached when security guards dragged them from a special area at the 2013 National Day ceremony, a court heard on Wednesday.
But lawyers for the director of home affairs said the pair’s rights under Hong Kong’s Basic Law were never breached during the October 1 event, pointing out the activists were still able to carry out their silent demonstration during the national anthem, as they had planned.
Lai, 22, was a spokesperson for disbanded campaign group Scholarism. He is judicially reviewing the director of home affairs’ decision to remove him and Scholarism colleague Wong from the invite-only “community viewing area” at the event.
At a High Court hearing on Wednesday morning, Lai’s lawyer Jeffrey Tam Chun-kit said the pair’s right to freedom of expression and right to freedom of the person – under Articles 27 and 28 of Chapter 3 of the Basic Law – had been breached.
Lai – who was 18 at the time of the incident – and Wong had entered the special area, and were calmly talking to reporters when security guards approached them and asked them to leave, Tam said.
Ho Fook-wah, then chief executive for administration at the Home Affairs Department, said in a statement read by Tam that the pair were asked to leave once again after that, and he then asked security guards to remove them after hearing “hushed comments” that the pair were “troublemakers and rubbish”.
Tam said the pair were “very peaceful” before they were removed.
“They did not act in a disruptive manner,” he said. “They were removed only because they entered into the wrong area.”
Security guards hauled the pair to the edge of the invite-only area. Tam said the level of force was unreasonable and the decision to remove them was a disproportionate restriction on the pair’s freedom of expression.
Although the pair had entered a restricted area that was under the exclusive use of the government that day, the area had a “significant degree of public character” as it was usually a public space, he said.
But Victor Dawes SC, representing the director of home affairs, said the pair’s freedoms under the Basic Law hadn’t been breached at all, as the pair had carried out the silent protest as they had planned.
“The whole incident is really a storm in a teacup,” Dawes said, noting it arose from a “spur of the moment” decision to go into another area.
“We are really looking at a minor incident,” he said.
Dawes said there had been no need for Lai and Wong to enter the restricted community groups area, as the protest they hoped to carry out could have been done in the public area.
He said the security guards had a right to forcibly remove the pair as they were trespassing by not responding to requests to leave. And he said there would be no point in dividing the venue into four areas if the separation of sections wasn’t enforced.
“There is no suggestion that they were injured, or that they made a report to the police,” he said.
Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming, who reserved his judgment, noted Wong had complained to the police about an injury after the incident.