Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong ordered to pay HK$8,000 legal fees after losing compensation claim
Student activist was seeking HK$45,000 for alleged assault and unlawful detention after he claimed he had been forcefully handcuffed by police without being formally arrested during a protest last year
Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung was on Wednesday ordered to pay the secretary for justice more than HK$8,000 (US$1,020) in legal fees after a court dismissed his financial claim for alleged assault and unlawful detention.
But the university student remained defiant as he vowed to appeal the case to the High Court, in the hope that a judge would clarify the legal basis for police handcuffing him without arrest during a protest last year.
The Small Claims Tribunal case centred on a protest ahead of the city’s annual anti-government rally on July 1, when Wong and a group of 30 pro-democracy activists were on their way to a flag-raising ceremony in Wan Chai, near where President Xi Jinping would deliver a speech.
As his group was met by a larger gang of some 100 pro-Beijing counter-protesters, clashes ensued despite police warnings and attempts to separate the crowds.
The court heard that officers then decided to remove the smaller group of protesters from the scene to protect their safety, restore order and prevent further escalation.
Among them was Wong, who testified last month that he was forcefully removed by officers without warning and handcuffed without arrest.
“I was dragged and yanked into a police car by officers using violent force,” said Wong, who demanded HK$45,000 (US$5,700) in compensation.
Meanwhile, officers recounted struggling to restrain an emotional Wong in their attempt to escort him to the Wan Chai police station, claiming they were injured in the process.
The officer who handcuffed Wong also claimed that he had taken all reasonable steps, which included issuing a final warning and assessing the activist’s background as a person who knew how to defy the police, before tying his hands “for his personal safety”.
On Wednesday, deputy adjudicator Simon Ho said he considered Wong “an unreliable and untrustworthy witness” who gave evidence with rigid details.
In contrast, Ho fully accepted the officers’ accounts and agreed there was “a real need” for the reasonable use of force, which he concluded was lawful.
“The court finds the claimant’s conduct had amounted to a breach of peace,” Ho said. “The claim [for HK$45,000] is dismissed.”
Instead, Wong was ordered to pay the secretary for justice HK$8,062 (US$1,034) for transport, photocopying and arranging the four officers’ testimonies.
Outside court, Wong said he was disappointed by the adjudicator for accepting unbelievable claims that a protester would display self-harming tendencies or that the officers were injured, despite there being no medical proof.
He also questioned if the adjudicator had ruled beyond the case that should have centred on the legitimacy of the use of handcuffs.
“Why would a Small Claims Tribunal handling civil claims rule on whether I had breached the peace or assaulted police?” he said. “I’d like to ask if Hong Kong courts have a new understanding and definition on the use of handcuffs.”