300 protesters in court bid to stay until test case

Cindy Sui

The lawyer representing more than 300 protesting mainland overstayers is to seek permission this week for them to stay in Hong Kong until a High Court test case which will determine their fate is heard.

Lawyer Pam Baker, who represents 18 mainland overstayers already arrested, will apply to the Immigration Department for 'walkabout' permits for the 315 other mainlanders who remained outside the Central Government Offices on their 13th day of protest yesterday.

This would allow them to stay in the SAR until a decision in the test case involving the 18 is reached in the High Court.

Father Franco Mella, a Catholic priest helping the protesters, said issuing permits to the protesters would allow them to go home, shower and sleep.

'It'll be a psychological boost for them, to relax after two weeks of uncertainty, eating and sleeping here,' he said.

The protesters have stayed outside the Central Government Offices, avoiding trips to public toilets for fear of being held by immigration officers.

Most of them have overstayed their two-way permits issued for family visitations and are appealing to the Government to allow them to stay on account of the court ruling which grants anyone with a Hong Kong parent the right of abode.

But the Government has insisted they first return to the mainland to wait with tens of thousands of others for permission to emigrate.

The 18 arrested overstayers were released on bail on Monday and have been issued with the walkabout permits, which will allow them to move about freely pending the outcome of the test case.

It is expected to be tried as early as April and that case in turn will decide the fate of the other 315 protesters.

Another protester was arrested on Tuesday near his parents' home in Kowloon but was released in less than 24 hours and also issued with a permit.

Father Mella said protesters' fears of arrest had lessened since their counterparts had been released on bail with the permit.

But he said they should be granted the permit without being arrested.

Protesters, most of whom are adult children of Hong Kong residents, ate Lunar New Year meals with their parents on the ground outside the Central Government Offices that has been their home for two weeks.

Choi Chau-wa, 62, brought a sleeping mat yesterday for her son, 42.

'I'm ill and I have trouble walking but I wanted him to be comfortable,' Ms Choi said. 'I'm worried he'll get sick from sleeping in the cold.' Her son has been applying to live with her in Hong Kong for 21 years.