Drop outdated rioting charges and call independent inquiry: New report

A new 38 page report by Hong Kong Watch calls on the Hong Kong government to drop rioting charges against protestors at the June 12 2019 protests, to conduct a judge-led independent inquiry into incidents of police violence, and urges reform of the city's Public Order Ordinance.

The report, titled Outdated and Draconian: Hong Kong's Public Order Ordinance, says:

"This report finds that the law under which they have been charged, the Public Order Ordinance, fails to comply with the international human rights standards that Hong Kong is signed up to. This conclusion is in line with the views of the United Nations Human Rights Committee who have expressed concern that the law could “be applied to restrict unduly enjoyment of the rights guaranteed in Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” In view of this conclusion, it is not appropriate to charge young protestors with “rioting” unless the legislation is reformed and sentencing guidelines amended."

In a foreword to the report, Dr Margaret Ng, a barrister and one of the founders of Hong Kong's Civic Party, said: "Freedom of peaceful demonstration is possibly the most powerful freedom the people of Hong Kong still possess in the face of an undemocratic government. As shown in the June protests against the extradition bill, it can be exercised to world-shaking effects. The greatest threat to this freedom is the Public Order Ordinance or “POO” as it is nicknamed. It is therefore most timely that Hong Kong Watch publishes the present study to call attention to the need for reform of this out-dated legislation."

She continued: "The Public Order Ordinance is out of date and out of step with human rights law: in giving excessive power to the police; in the broad definition of public order offences; and in the imposition of harsh sentences on the offenders."

The report has five key findings:

  1. The application of the Public Order Ordinance has been unprecedented and punitive since the Umbrella Movement

  2. The law's definition of 'illegal assembly' and 'rioting' is vague and ill-defined

  3. The law has excessively punitive sentencing guidelines

  4. The law gives police extreme powers to proscribe protest

  5. Rimsky Yuen, the former Secretary of Justice, abused his position in charge of prosecutions under CY Leung

It makes the following recommendations to the Government of Hong Kong:

  1. Drop rioting charges against all protestors at the 12 June 2019 protest;

  2. Tighten the sentencing guidelines and definitions in the Public Order Ordinance to ensure that the legislation is less open to abuse;

  3. Remove the police notification requirement to bring the legislation in line with international human rights standards;

  4. Initiate a government inquiry into the Umbrella Movement, Mong Kok unrest of 2016, and the police violence of 12 June 2019, which holds the police to account to de-escalate concerns that the Secretary of Justice has abused the law to pursue a political campaign and punish opponents of the government.

  5. The Secretary of Justice, who is a political appointee, should no longer be in charge of prosecutions. In Britain, for example, prosecutions come under the director of public prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service – the Secretary of Justice shapes the policy, not the prosecutions