Lawmaker hails ruling as victory for right to civil disobedience Legislator 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung and four others yesterday won their appeal against jail sentences imposed for their protest against a toll increase at the Eastern Harbour Tunnel. In overturning their sentences, a Court of First Instance judge noted that Hong Kong was a city tolerant of measured public protest. The five were convicted in Eastern Court on March 21 of one count each of obstructing a public place and of an act that could cause obstruction in a public place. At the time Magistrate Josiah Lam Wai-kuen said the defendants had 'hijacked' the tunnel on April 29, 2005 and blocked traffic for about 21 minutes. He described their behaviour as wholly intolerable to the public. Mr Leung, Tsang Kin-shing and Andrew To Kwan-hang each received 12-day jail terms. Chan Kwok-heung and Li Tak-wah received concurrent suspended sentences of 12 days. But Mr Justice Peter Nguyen yesterday overturned the convictions, citing errors made during the trial and the failure of the prosecution to prove the public had been unduly inconvenienced by the protest. Mr Justice Nguyen found the trial had been fatally flawed by the reversal of the order of submissions. Mr Leung and Martin Lee Chu-ming SC, the counsel for the other defendants, had been disadvantaged by having to address the court first, without hearing the prosecution's case against them, and having to respond to questions of fact from the magistrate. The fact the prosecution was able to reopen its case after the defence had made its closing submissions was also a major concern. 'In my judgment,' Mr Justice Nguyen said, 'even if justice was done, it was not manifestly seen to be done. This would constitute a material irregularity, and on this ground alone, the appeals against conviction must be allowed'. Even without the irregularity, he said the convictions would have been overturned as the authorities had allowed the protest. 'It is quite clear that this protest was known to the authorities and mass media before the appellants arrived at the tunnel,' he said. 'It was a symbolic action on their part and they would not have resisted any arrest action by the police if the police had decided to carry that out earlier than they did.' Had the police moved in earlier, the protest would not have lasted as long as it did, the judge said. 'This is, to my mind, clear evidence of tolerance, not by members of the public specifically, but by the authorities in control of the scene.' Mr To hailed the judgment. '[It] shows Hong Kong still has rule of law and freedom of expression,' he said. 'The judge has recognised that society should respect the views of others.' Mr Leung said it was a victory for the right of protest in Hong Kong. 'The judge has recognised the right of Hong Kong people to engage in civil disobedience.' The Department of Justice said it was studying the ruling.