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Mixed signals on legality of protest slogan

2020-07-05 HKT 11:04
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  • Matthew Cheung doubled down on the government contention that the slogan 'Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times' breaches the law, though other pro-establishment figures aren't so sure. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Chief Secretary for Administration
    Matthew Cheung doubled down on the government contention that the slogan 'Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times' breaches the law, though other pro-establishment figures aren't so sure. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Chief Secretary for Administration
Politicians and legal experts continued to send out mixed signals on Sunday over whether the protest slogan ‘Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times’ breaches Hong Kong’s new national security law.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung in his blog repeated a government warning that the slogan “connotes Hong Kong independence, altering the legal status of the Hong Kong SAR, or subverting state power”.

He urged people not to test the law, adding that the government would throw its full weight behind police efforts to strictly enforce the new law to restore peace and social order.

Cheung also wrote that some people may not completely understand the new law yet, and the government would do its best to educate the public to explain and promote the legislation, and give people a ‘correct understanding’ of the law.

But speaking on a radio programme, Basic Law Committee member and prominent legal scholar Albert Chen noted that it’s ultimately the courts that will decide on the legality or otherwise of specific acts.

He said just because the police had arrested people carrying banners bearing the protest slogan on July 1 doesn’t mean it’s necessarily against the law.

The Department of Justice would have to decide whether to prosecute, Chen noted, and the court would have to come up with a judgement.

He also gave other examples of what may breach the law and what should be safe.

For example, Chen said people who write articles proposing to change Hong Kong’s political system should be fine – so long as they don’t advocate the use of violence or illegal means – as specified under the law against subverting state power.

But those who plan ‘referendums’ on whether Hong Kong become independent, or donate money or resources to support such an initiative, would likely fall afoul of the law, he said.

Speaking on the same programme, Hong Kong’s lone member on the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Tam Yiu-chung, also weighed in the slogan row.

He said the government statement on the issue is merely a reminder that the slogan ‘carries secessionist or subversive intent’, and is not a declaration that it is illegal.