Legal experts: The HKSAR government can use legal means to stop the violence

Editor's note: The article was first published by Xinhua News on August 27, 2019. It does not necessarily reflect the views of CGTN.

Several legal experts said that Hong Kong's existing laws provide the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government with many legal means to stop the months-long violence and chaos. They hope that relevant agencies will exercise their authorities in accordance with the law and speed up the prosecution of the offenders, thus truly demonstrating the rule of law.

Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, an associate professor at the City University of Hong Kong's School of Law and a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, said that HKSAR's laws, such as the Public Order Ordinance and Police Force Ordinance, can provide the government with legal means to stop violence and chaos.    

By referring to the provisions of the Public Order Ordinance, she said that some protesters' acts of violence and destruction constitute unlawful assembly, riots and related crimes. They demolish or damage buildings, paralyze the railway system, intrude into private areas, forcibly occupy premises, fight in public places, advocate for the use of violence in public meetings, etc.

She stressed that Hong Kong is a society ruled by law. In recent unapproved demonstrations, some protesters committed offenses by occupying roads, blocking tunnels, wrecking public facilities and even threatening the safety of others. 

Protesters clash with the police in Hong Kong, China, August 25, 2019. /CCTV Photo

Protesters clash with the police in Hong Kong, China, August 25, 2019. /CCTV Photo

In terms of law enforcement, the Police Force Ordinance sets out the powers of police officers clearly. According to these regulations, Leung said, it is irrational and illegal to keep the police from entering places such as metro stations and shopping malls, and hinder the police from capturing violent saboteurs.

What's more, police officers have been under great physical and mental stress in the recent turmoil. If necessary, temporary police officers can be hired in accordance with the Police Force Ordinance to bolster the size of law enforcement teams.  

Maggie Chan Man-ki, the Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress and president of the Small and Medium Law Firms Association of Hong Kong, said that to prevent violence during public meetings and demonstrations, the police could step up the regulation of such activities in accordance with article 17 of the Public Order Ordinance. 

Chan said, "If the police think that some demonstrations will jeopardize public safety and social peace, they can immediately stop these demonstrations. This is the power of the police and should be used without fear when appropriate." 

Many legal experts suggested that illegal and violent acts have occurred in airports, subways, undersea tunnels and other places in the past, putting public transport in danger. Under similar circumstances, the government may consider taking active measures if necessary and applying for a temporary injunction.  

Hong Kong police hold an emergency press conference in Hong Kong, China, August 26, 2019. /CCTV Photo

Hong Kong police hold an emergency press conference in Hong Kong, China, August 26, 2019. /CCTV Photo

They also pointed out that in face of the current turmoil, the HKSAR government should have a comprehensive plan and put all available legal measures on the table. However, considering that curfew orders and the establishment of off-limit areas are a bit too aggressive, they should be used with caution.

Gu Minkang, former associate dean of the City University of Hong Kong's School of Law, said that measures such as curfew and martial law have legal basis and precedence in Hong Kong, but these measures have a great impact on the city's business environment and international image. At the present stage, the key to stopping violence and chaos is to strictly enforce the existing laws, arrest offenders and prosecute them in a timely manner.  

Chan said that in order to put a quick end to acts of violence and destruction, the first thing to do is to speed up the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators. "If we only arrest but do not prosecute offenders, people with ulterior motives will continue to incite others to break the law." Moreover, the incited young people should not be the only ones to be arrested. The ringleaders behind them must be punished as well. "If we only hit the pawns but not the kingpins, these planned acts of violence will never stop."   

Leung pointed out that there have been many offenders recently. The prosecution agency is under heavy pressure. In such context, Hong Kong may take a leaf of from other places by setting up "ad hoc tribunals" and have judges familiar with such cases handle them on a full-time basis to speed up the prosecution process.  

In face of violence and chaos, the HKSAR government has many legal means at its disposal. In addition to that, a lot of communication work needs to be done to seek consensus among people from different backgrounds and positions so as to restore social order, Leung commented.

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