Police Arrests Lawful Assembly Organiser for Overcrowding
The “Universal Siege on Communists” march originally commencing in Central was officially objected by the police. The organiser, Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team, thus changed it into an assembly in Chater Road and Chater Garden, nonetheless drawing 150 thousands citizens to gather for the cause. Police conducted indiscriminate and excessive stop and search nearby the assembly, provoking the participants. Clash between the police and the participants started early at around 4pm. Amidst the conflict, police in plain clothes abruptly demanded the organiser to stop the assembly. They were asked by the crowd to produce their warrant cards for identification, but they refused such request and were subsequently injured and left bleeding in the heads during the chaos. Police later arrested the organiser-cum-applicant Ventus Lau Wing-hong for “inciting public reaction, overcrowding Chater Garden and violating the agreements in the Letter of No Objection for the assembly”. Police claimed that there were only 12 thousands participants at the assembly, yet according to Apple Daily police had once claimed that Chater Garden could accommodate a crowd of at least 25 thousands, ironically proving the lack of legitimacy in Lau’s arrest.
Lau as the spokesperson of the Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team announced that there were 150 thousands participants and more was expected had police not cut it short unreasonably. He furthered that police should be held accountable for today’s conflict since those plainclothes officers refused to produce their warrant cards while acting in official capacity, which provoked the public. After making such announcement to the press, Lau was immediately brought into police custody and escorted out in a private vehicle. Another spokesperson of the Team Mr Lam said that police arrested Lau for inciting the crowd, causing assault against plainclothes police and violating the agreements in the Letter of No Objection by overcrowding the garden. Lam condemned such arbitrary arrest as Lau was simply requesting the production of police warrant card.
Senior Superintendent (Operations) of police HK Island Regional Headquarters Ng Chun-lok answered only three press enquiries later that night before leaving Police Headquarters. He blamed rioters for hijacking the peaceful assembly and assaulting police officers which resulted in the cancellation of the assembly. He also claimed that Lau knew the concerned plainclothes Officer upon previous liaison and therefore his request for the production of warrant cards was with ill intent to incite public reaction. He condemned Lau for shirking the responsibilities of assault against police officers to the police force. He furthered that Lau was arrested as the organiser violates the agreements in the Letter of No Objection by failing to assist in maintaining public order.
Lau has previously been charged with one count of “entering or remaining in precincts of Chamber of the Legislative Council” as he entered the LegCo building on 1st July 2019. He was released on bail and prohibited from leaving HK, pending for his trial on 21st February 2020. In August 2019, he organised a march in Kwun Tong and was arrested again by the police for unlawful assembly. In September, he was released unconditionally after declining to enter into further bail. Joshua Wong said that as this was Lau’s third time being arrested he might not be granted bail and would probably be detained at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre.
Convener of Progressive Lawyers Group Barrister Billy Li said “violating the Letter of No Objection” as a criminal offence was unheard of. He also said that, if the act of “inciting public reaction” has induced or has the possibility of inducing a breach of peace, police officer had the legal basis to make an arrest under the common law. However, he disagreed that such action would constitute the commitment of offence. He quoted the case of Christina Chan waving the Flag of Tibet during the Olympic torch-passing, in which police had the power to arrest her as the relevant ordinances offered great flexibility to them. But it was only for the purpose of restoring peaceful order as soon as possible with the least arrest, considering that it was difficult to stop a emotional person.
As for police’s latest arrest of Lau, if the police consider the assault against police officers to be attributed to Lau’s incitement of the crowd, Lau could be indicted and punished with the same amount of penalty as assaulting a police officer. However, Li stressed that the penalty or the absence of penalty depended on the situation at the material time, including factors such as how Lau’s action or words affected the public order in police’s perspective. Take the Occupy Movement in 2014 as an example, in order to constitute incitement, a person had to actually speak out and call for the act of occupying Admiralty. Li therefore believed that Lau would not be sentenced with the same amount of penalty as assaulting a police office, since it would make no sense for Lau, as one of the organisers, to call for the crowd to beat up a police officer at the scene.