Punish surrendering Occupy protesters leniently, Hong Kong top court judge urges
Participants in civil disobedience often proved right by history, says Leonard Hoffman
A non-permanent judge of the city’s top court says Occupy protesters who have turned themselves in to police should be punished leniently, considering they were “not wicked people” but acting out of “conviction and conscience”.
Speaking to an audience at the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre on rule of law and arbitration yesterday, Lord Justice Leonard Hoffmann said civil disobedience had “an old tradition” in the common law world.
“In any civilised society, there is room for people making political points by civil disobedience,” said Hoffmann, a retired judge from the House of Lords.
“Very often, people [who participated in civil disobedience] are justified by history afterwards,” he said.
Hoffmann gave the example of the suffragettes – the women who broke laws to fight for the right to vote in Britain in the early 20th century. Some of them chained themselves to the railings of government buildings and ended up being penalised with small fines at the magistrate courts.
“In the end, they were found to be right,” he said.
Hoffmann spoke a day after the three Occupy founders, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming surrendered themselves to police with more than 60 of their supporters. Admitting taking part in unauthorised assemblies all of them were released without being charged for the time being.
After the talk, Hoffmann told the Post he was aware of the mass surrender and that the protesters should be given a lenient sentence.
“These are not wicked people,” he said.
While the “rules of the game” for protesters were to remain non-violent while breaking the law, the authorities must recognise that demonstrators are acting out of their conscience in pursuit of democracy.
“When it comes to punishment, the court should take into account their personal convictions,” he said.