Draconian public order legislation needs reform, says new Hong Kong Watch report

Antony Kwan: Getty Images

Antony Kwan: Getty Images

A new Hong Kong Watch briefing argues that Hong Kong’s public order and legislation and rioting legislation urgently needs reform.

Hong Kong Watch will publish an in-depth report on this subject in the coming months. This briefing summarises one key argument: that the legislation has been a key tool in the Hong Kong government’s campaign of “lawfare” against Hong Kong’s political opposition.   

The briefing, A Tool of Lawfare: The Abuse of Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance since 2014, calls on the government of Hong Kong to: immediately reform the Public Order Ordinance; to conduct a government inquiry into the Umbrella Movement in 2014, and the Mong Kok unrest in 2016, in order to hold the police accountable for violence and to de-escalate concerns about the politicisation of the process; and to appoint an independent Director of Public Prosecutions as chief prosecutor, in the place of the Secretary of Justice.

The briefing describes the Umbrella Movement as a “watershed” in the application of the Public Order Ordinance, noting that:

“Since the Umbrella Movement, more than 100 democracy activists and protestors have been prosecuted under the Public Order Ordinance, a law which has been repeatedly criticised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee for curtailing freedom of assembly.

Following pressure from the government to increase the ‘deterrence effect’ of the legislation in 2017, judges have interpreted offences in recent verdicts using the Public Order Ordinance following a simple approach: maximise the probability of conviction and minimise leniency. This not only further raises the costs of protest and has detrimental effects on civil liberties and political freedoms, it also sets a dangerous precedent for the rule of law.”

The briefing says that the Hong Kong government’s “abuse” of the city’s Public Order Ordinance helps to explain the decision of the German government to grant Ray Wong Toi-yeung and Alan Li asylum:  

“Undoubtedly one of the key reasons that the German government made the bold step of granting political asylum to two young Hong Kongers is because of the punitive way that the Public Order Ordinance has been used to crackdown on, and imprison, protestors from across Hong Kong’s political opposition. Mr Wong and Mr Li were facing trial under this law, and therefore could not be guaranteed a fair trial.”