At worst, consorting with a prostitute normally means two months' detention An academic and a think-tank head have expressed concern over the heavy sentence a Democrat received for consorting with a prostitute in Guangdong when a Hong Kong policeman got 15 days' detention for the same offence. Ong Yew-kim, a research fellow at Chinese University's Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, said it was very rare for a Hong Kong person hiring a prostitute on the mainland to be sentenced to six months' re-education through labour, the punishment handed down to Legco candidate Alex Ho Wai-to. 'Politics is behind the decision,' Mr Ong said. Christine Loh Kung-wai, head of the think-tank Civic Exchange, also voiced concern over the circumstances of Mr Ho's detention. Their comments came after Hao Zhiyong, an assistant minister of public security, defended the difference in punishment. 'This is normal because each case has its own unique circumstances and applicable laws,' he said. The mainland was a 'democratic and civilised country honouring the rule of law', the minister said, and the public security organisations were carrying out their duties according to the law. Li Gang, deputy director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, also said the mainland security officials had acted according to the law. He said every Chinese citizen - and Legco candidates especially - should abide by the law, love their families and show respect for women. Mr Ong said that according to the public security law, there were four main forms of punishment: a warning, administrative detention for up to 15 days, signing a statement of repentance and re-education through labour. Though the law did not specify the period of re-education, according to a 1991 National People's Congress Standing Committee ruling outlawing prostitution, those caught with prostitutes could be sentenced to six months' to two years' re-education through labour, he said. The researcher said: 'The most common punishment for a Hong Kong person consorting with a prostitute on the mainland is the 15-day administrative detention. 'Even if the person is sentenced to re-education through labour, he would only get one to two months.' Mr Ong said Public Security Bureau officials in Dongguan had wrongly used the term 'custody and education' this week when describing Mr Ho's sentence. The public security law and the NPC decision they cited both refer to 're-education through labour'. Ms Loh, of Civic Exchange, said the authorities had published new regulations governing 're-education through labour' in 2002. Article 12 of these regulations specifically excluded their application to foreigners, overseas Chinese, and Hong Kong or Macau residents, Ms Loh said in her latest newsletter. But Mr Ong said that since the regulations had been issued by the Public Security Bureau, they carried less weight than public security law, which was approved by the NPC Standing Committee, or the committee's 1991 ruling. Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, associate professor of City University's school of law, acknowledged the law and the 1991 ruling could override the regulations. Still, she said Mr Ho could still cite the regulations as grounds for an appeal.