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    A balance between protesters' rights and public interest needed

2005-05-07 07:45

Wen Wei Po's editorial on Friday took a stand on the Court of Final Appeal's quashing of the convictions of 16 Falun Gong practitioners:

The Court of Final Appeal (CFA) on Wednesday overturned the convictions of 16 Falun Gong practitioners for willfully obstructing and assaulting police officers performing their duty, saying the police action was unlawful in the first place.

We think that no group or organization, while exercising its right of demonstration, procession and assembly as protected by the Basic Law, should disrupt other people's normal life or any institution's normal operation.

In this case, the court should dispense the law according to law and treat everyone equally. It must not rest the principle that everybody is equal before the law just because the appellants happen to be Falun Gong practitioners, or the rule of law and the interest of Hong Kong residents would suffer the consequences in the years to come.

The CFA judges determined that police did not consider the fact that those 16 demonstrators were exercising their constitutional right or if their demonstration was reasonable. Nor did police have evidence that the demonstrators were unreasonably obstructing a public place. This judgment is unfair to the police force.

As Secretary of Security Lee Siu-kwong pointed out, the SAR government has always implemented the Basic Law strictly and protected Hong Kong residents' human rights, freedom and other fundamental rights.

In the past seven years or so, hardly has a day passed without us seeing gatherings or demonstrations. In fact, there have been more than 17,000 such events to date.

And we have all seen how restrained the police officers have been while dealing with such crowds, as has the international community that has come to regard Hong Kong as the "capital of protests and demonstrations".

The police force has done its best to protect demonstrators' rights while lawfully managing almost daily protests and people's assemblies and at the same time thoroughly performing its duty to safeguard public interest and social order. How could Hong Kong's freedom of assembly and procession be recognized internationally had police ignored the residents' constitutional rights?

Police in this case arrested the 16 individuals because they had been seriously obstructing a public place and inconveniencing the public. The police officers were under legal obligation to arrest them, yet they not only resisted arrest, but also attacked the officers who were performing their duty. The evidence of their obstructing a public place and policemen executing their duty as well as assaulting lawkeepers were fully established.

But CFA cited their exercise of constitutional rights as the reason for ruling that their arrest was unlawful, which in turn rendered police actions against them inside the police station unlawful. The court therefore overturned the convictions of their obstructing police and assaulting lawkeepers.

The way we see it, the CFA ruling has failed to find a reasonable balance between the rights of demonstrators and public interest. International human rights conventions clearly say that freedoms and rights come with obligations and responsibilities.

No one should enjoy his rights without honouring the obligations. It would be unlawful in any law-abiding society to use freedom of protest and assembly as an excuse for obstructing public places and disrupting other people's life and other institutions' operations.

Nobody can justify obstructing police from performing their duty and assaulting lawkeepers with one's freedom and rights. The CFA judgment holds the demonstrators' interest or rights as absolute. This is unfair both to the police force and to other members of the public and institutions.

All people are equal before the law, and nobody enjoys privileges that others don't. Hong Kong has always been proud of this tradition, which is also a key reason why it is respected as a "law-abiding society".

But if some groups, organizations or individuals are allowed to be above the law, the foundation of Hong Kong's rule of law would be compromised and Hongkongers' fundamental rights guaranteed by the Basic Law would lose protection.

It is really regrettable that CFA in this case has deviated from the principle that all are equal before the law and has failed to strike a fair and reasonable balance between public interest and the demonstrators' rights.

(HK Edition 05/07/2005 page2)


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