Central and Western District Council Chairman revengingly being arrested and searched house in mid-night, first charge of “seditious intention” crime in Hong Kong since 1971
On 26th March, 2020, Cheng Lai-King, chairwoman of the Central and Western District Council and a member of Democratic Party, was arrested and taken by the police for the investigation of “action with seditious intention”. Ted Hui Chi-fung, a member of Legislative Councilors from Democratic Party and a member of the Central and Western District, went to the Kwai Chung Police Station to help and learn about the incident. Cheng Lai-King was released on bail of HK $10,000 and said that the incident had been referred to a lawyer.
At about 1 am, the agent went to Cheng Lai-King’s residence in Lai Yiu Estate in Kwai Chung, and stayed in the flat for about an hour for investigation. Cheng was then taken to the police station. Superintendent Swalikh Mohammed, of Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau, explained to the media that Cheng was suspected of “seditious intention” under sections 9 and 10 of the Crimes Ordinance (Cap. 200 of the Laws of Hong Kong) by forwarding a post with information of a police officer, who fired a baton round that blinded an Indonesian female journalist.
Democratic Party had referred the lawyer Frederick Ho Chun-Ki, brother of Albert H- Chun-Yan, to assist Cheng. According to the source, Cheng was investigated in the police station and needed to wait until the morning to give statement. During this period, Cheng can contact no one except the lawyer. Outside the police station in the early morning, Ted Hui said that Cheng still had not been officially charged. Ted Hui expressed extreme anger at the police’s arrest, believing that Cheng was arrested because she had forwarded a post on social media. Hui pointed out that the post criticised the police, which led to a suspicion that the police is taking private revenge against Cheng by abusing their power to arbitrarily arrest and charge. He described this act was against freedom of speech and public opinion. If the police could put someone under the arrest only based on posts forwarded on social media, the police was using public office to suppress their dissidents. Any citizens who talked about police violence on social media could be arrested.
Central and Western District Councillor Fergus Leung Fong-Wai said that the arrest of Cheng was obviously a private enmity of the police. He said that in the last few meetings of Central and Western District Council, the police representatives ignored standing orders and often interrupted the meeting. During the meeting, Cheng had fulfilled her duty as a council chairman by keeping the order of the meeting. Leung said the process might have not been a pleasant one for the police representative, but the police could not make up prosecution as they wanted. He empathised that if the police representatives still did not follow standing orders in the upcoming meetings, they would still be asked to leave the meeting.
Regarding the arrest of Cheng on suspicion of “action with seditious intention”, barrister Albert Luk Wai Hung admitted that detention on this charge was “very rare” – “I haven’t heard of anyone charged with this crime for decades!” This case had never been seen in Hong Kong in the past. He believed that the police’s action was a “special initiative”. “Seditious intention” belongs to Articles 9 and 10 of the Crimes Ordinance. A seditious intention is an intention, to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against The State Council, The People’s Republic of China, or against the Government of Hong Kong, or the government of any other part of The People’s Republic of China; or to excite Chinese people or inhabitants of Hong Kong to attempt to procure the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any other matter in Hong Kong as by law established; or to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Hong Kong; or to raise discontent or disaffection amongst Chinese people or inhabitants of Hong Kong; or to promote feelings of ill-will and enmity between different classes of the population of Hong Kong; or to incite persons to violence; or to counsel disobedience to law or to any lawful order. The first conviction is punishable by a fine of $ 5,000 and imprisonment for two years, and the subsequent conviction is punishable by imprisonment for 3 years. He pointed out that forwarding posts on the Internet had never been an evidence to trigger any prosecution because Hong Kong enjoyed freedom of speech, “it is a common behaviour,. It is not easy to report, and the evidence base is not strong, unless it is proven to be organised.”
Legal scholar Johannes Chan Man-Mun said that the crimes of “seditious intention” in Sections 9 and 10 of the Crimes Ordinance have been controversial because its scope is large and regarded as a political prosecution. The mentioning of “to raise discontent or disaffection amongst Her Majesty(replaced by the concept of the Chinese government after 1997)’s subjects or inhabitants of Hong Kong” and “to promote feelings of ill-will and enmity between different classes of the population of Hong Kong” in the Ordinance, Chan thought that the literal interpretation could be very broad, and it did not literally contain violent tendencies or promotion of violence. “How about dissatisfaction? We have it every day. Have we offended this law?”