Occupy Central

Police warn online posters who incite Occupy protests will be arrested

Force says more arrests could be made after first person is charged for posts on internet forum

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 October, 2014, 6:37am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 October, 2014, 6:37am

Police say more arrests could be made of those who use the internet to incite others to join the "unlawful" Occupy protests.

The warning came after a 23-year-old man was arrested in Tin Shui Wai on Saturday for posting messages on an online forum encouraging people to join an unlawful assembly, charge at police and block railways,

The man was charged with "access to computer with criminal or dishonest intent" and unlawful assembly after he was found to have joined the protests in Mong Kok on Friday, police said.

The suspect has been released on bail and investigations are ongoing.

At the daily press conference yesterday, the police public relations bureau head, Chief Superintendent Steve Hui Chun-tak , said more such arrests were possible and that it was a "very serious criminal offence" to "incite others" to join the protests.

Hui reiterated that most laws that apply to the real world were applicable to the internet and said that the force would make arrests if there was adequate evidence.

Hui did not reveal the exact wording of what was posted online, but said the suspect "was inciting others to join an unlawful assembly in Mong Kok, to charge police cordons and to paralyse the railway".

"These amount to incitement of a very serious nature, and therefore we made the arrest," said Hui.

This is understood to be the first such arrest since the Occupy Central movement began on September 28.

Stephen Hung Wan-shun, a criminal lawyer and president of the Law Society, said the charge was more common than most would think. He also said police would not have to prove whether anyone had actually acted after reading the forum posting, but the suspect could argue the plausibility of incitement in court.

"The number of readers of the comment would dictate the severity of the offence," he said.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a solicitor and principal lecturer at the University of Hong Kong law faculty, said there was legal basis for such an arrest but it depended on how clear the criminal intent was.

"If you say, 'Let's go and attend a peaceful civil disobedience movement', then it's harder to prove there is criminal intent but if you say, 'Let's go charge at police' then the criminal intent is clearer," Cheung said. "We must note that this is all happening within the context of Occupy Central."

He said it was difficult to say whether it would set a precedent for further such arrests, but added it was possible that police would now be monitoring the internet more strictly. "The legal weighing of what you say online and what you say in real life is pretty much the same," he said.

In a similar case, a man was arrested in 2010 for posting a message on an online forum about bombing the central government's liaison office. His case reached the top court in March, but was quashed by judges.

The judges said the man had sent his message on the web as a "medium". But the charge laid on him - outraging public decency - required the act to be done in a "physical, tangible place", which did not encompass cyberspace.