A former Law Society president staged a small-scale demonstration of mostly non-lawyers in Central yesterday to counter a march by about 1,800 legal professionals voicing their discontent with Beijing's white paper.
Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, who now sits on the society's council, issued a last-minute appeal and gathered about 20 people in front of the Court of Final Appeal on Battery Path less than an hour before the other protest began.
He made patriotism the theme of his rally, aimed at "correcting" the understanding Hongkongers, including "the legal elite", had of "loving the country and loving Hong Kong".
"Since when has being a patriot become unacceptable or even a crime in Hong Kong?" Ho asked. "Some lawyers in Hong Kong have suggested that judges need not be patriotic, otherwise the judiciary's independence would be compromised or they could even acting against the rule of law. But what is the basis of such thinking?"
The bigger march took issue with the assertion in last week's white paper of Beijing's "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong, and with its categorisation of judges as administrators who must be patriots.
But Ho noted that judges had to swear to uphold the Basic Law and their allegiance to Hong Kong and the nation.
"The white paper has not expressed anything new," he said. "It shows that the central government supports the Basic Law, the Hong Kong SAR and the 'one country, two systems' principle."
Critics who said the document threatened judicial independence were "taking things out of context", he said.
Ho called his rally "anti-dress-black", to contradict the black dress code for the other event. "It is right to wear light-coloured clothes on a day as hot as today."
The lawyer drew to his event mainly members of the New Territories Concern Group, which was set up last year to monitor government policy on small houses and unauthorised building works in the New Territories.
In a mass text message he sent out before the rally, he wrote: "Loving the country and loving Hong Kong is not only the responsibility of judges but also the civic duty of the citizens."
The note also asked people to "support implementation of the Basic Law", "protect Hong Kong" and "avoid trouble caused by reactionaries and secessionists".
Meanwhile, about another 20 people gathered outside the High Court in Admiralty calling on local judges to love China.
They also slammed the lawyers who marched against the white paper as traitors and broadcast the national anthem.