Police defines gathering ban on Facebook. Lawyer accuses police of using public health measures to ban gatherings.
On the night of 26th April 2020, Hong Kong police entered Cityplaza mall in Taikoo Shing and used coronavirus regulations of anti-gathering ban to disperse the crowd. They even defined the anti-gathering ban in Facebook, stating that if participants of share the same target, they are regarded as gathering in public places. If that public activity consists of more than four people, all participants have violated the Regulation Cap. 599G; no matter the distance between each participant is 1.5 metres, Cap. 599G is violated. A lawyer said the current definition of the regulations are ambiguous. Another believes that law enforcement must act upon the legislative intention, but now appears the police were using laws against gatherings to suppress freedom of expression.
Duncan Ho Dik-hong, a member of the Progressive Lawyers Group said according to the related regulations, officers can disperse the group gathering if people gather for different reasons and the distance is less than 1.5 metres between two groups or more; if the person refuses, may consider as violating the law. On the other hand, if people gathered for a common purpose, they would be seen as being part of a group gathering. There was no mention of social distancing in gatherings with “common purpose” in the newly enacted regulations. Ho said the issue has gray areas as there is no clear definition for “a gathering.” He asked, “If people gather at different locations with common purpose, is that considered as group gathering? Does it violate the law?” He said according to the intention of legislation, distancing should also be considered but not only about common purpose.
Lawyer Daniel Wong Kwok-tung stated that the intention of Regulation Cap. 599G is for combating the coronavirus pandemic, forbidding crowded gatherings to stop virus from spreading, but not restricting public activities. He doubted the force used public health measures to suppress public gatherings since they could not use charges like “unlawful assembly”. He said, “Law should not be used this way. What if citizens go hiking in Lion Rock, all of them with same goal, but spaced out, is that still considered as violating the law?” He said police should not extend the regulations to restrict public activities, instead must follow the main intention of the regulations to enforce the law.
Article 27 of the Basic Law states : “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike”
The freedom of the person of Hong Kong residents shall be inviolable.
No Hong Kong resident shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful arrest, detention or imprisonment.
Related: 26th April Cityplaza mall in Taikoo Shing “Sing with you”