Protest banner on clothes line sparks arrest

Local | Erin Chan 23 Jun 2021

A 40-year-old man was arrested under a colonial-era ordinance for hanging a "liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times" banner on a laundry rack outside his flat.

The slogan, coined by localists such as the imprisoned Edward Leung Tin-kei and popular during the 2019 unrest, was deemed by the government as "pro-independence, secessionist and subversive," and in breach of the national security law.

But the 40-year-old, Law, was arrested on Monday for uttering seditious words instead, an offense under section 10 of the Crimes Ordinance. First offenders are punishable with a HK$5,000 fine and a two-year jail sentence.

At 2.14pm on Monday, police were alerted by a passer-by that the offending banner was hung outside a Mong Kok tenement building on Fife Street.

At 5pm, around 20 constables arrived at the building, arrested Law and removed the 125-by-80-centimeter banner hung outside Law's unit.

Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung said the offense of "uttering seditious words" could not be properly interpreted due to a lack of a precedent.

"We can only interpret the offense according to its textual meaning," he said. "But the wording used is vague What constitutes 'seditious words?'"

Luk said it was hard to judge if Law had done anything "seditious," but his motivations could be the determining factor.

"We can't judge if the slogan is seditious or not," he said. "If the slogan is used as a joke, then I don't think it is an offense."

People Power activist Tam Tak-chi, who has been remanded in custody at Lai Chi Kok Reception Center since September pending trial, is the first person since the handover to be charged with sedition under the Crimes Ordinance.

Tam, 48, was slapped with 15 charges, including seven counts of "uttering seditious words" and one count of "conspiracy to utter seditious words."

Prosecutors alleged that Tam chanted seditious slogans inciting hatred and contempt of the SAR administration in multiple neighborhoods between last January 17 and July 19.

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