Hong Kong courts

Acquittal overturned for League of Social Democrats activist in Hong Kong MTR station protest

Stations’ ticketed areas are for passengers only and protesters should have made their point elsewhere, judge rules

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 5:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2018, 8:38am

Hong Kong’s High Court on Tuesday overturned the acquittal of an activist charged two years ago for staging a demonstration inside a railway station, ruling the area was for passengers only and protesters should have made their point elsewhere.

Judge Wilson Chan Ka-shun upheld an appeal by the city’s railway operator by finding League of Social Democrats vice-chairman Chow Nok-hang guilty of disregarding orders from MTR staff to leave Tai Wai station on March 9, 2016. He referred the case back to Fanling Court for sentencing.

After the ruling the activist said his protest – against proposed joint checkpoint plans at a high-speed rail terminal – had not been intended to disrupt passengers. He said he planned to appeal, even if it meant taking the case all the way to the Court of Final Appeal.

Chow was among 15 activists who turned up to protest against a controversial plan for a joint railway immigration and customs checkpoint, run by both mainland Chinese and local officers, at the West Kowloon terminal. Stationing mainland officers on Hong Kong soil does not fit with the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, they said.

The group used a loudspeaker to make their voices heard inside the ticketed area of the station. Chow refused requests from MTR staff that he leave, and was later charged with violating MTR by-laws.

However, a Fanling magistrate dismissed the case, saying the station, including the paid area, was a public place and Chow was only exercising his freedom of speech.

But in a written judgment handed down on Tuesday, Court of First Instance judge Chan overturned the lower court’s decision and reasoning.

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The station was rather a “privately owned venue performing a public function” and the paid area of stations was there to serve passengers, Chan said. It was therefore reasonable to place restrictions on demonstrations.

Despite the Hong Kong government holding shares in the MTR Corporation, the railway operator is a separate legal entity and the stations are therefore privately owned, the judge said.

“The purpose of the paid area of the station is (unlike the outside area) not to enable the public to use the premises as a public walkway or a shopping mall,” the judge wrote.

Permitting one protest could create “real concern” about attracting other demonstrations in future, the court ruled.

Chow however said he would continue to protest in future, including at an MTR Corp shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday.

He said after receiving the judgment: “We think the MTR station is a public area, and we should have the right to protest.”