Hong Kong authorities have arrested a pro-democracy district councillor under colonial-era laws forbidding “exciting disaffection” towards the SAR government after she allegedly circulated the identity of a police officer accused of partially blinding a journalist during last year’s anti-government protests.
Police confirmed today that the Democratic Party’s Cheng Lai-king, the chairwoman of Central and Western District Council, was arrested on suspicion of “seditious intent” for allegedly inciting violence and hatred, as well as potentially violating a High Court injunction banning doxxing of police officers and the Privacy Ordinance, RTHK reports.
Police Superintendent Swalikh Mohammed said Cheng, 60, was accused of circulating a widely shared Facebook post containing the personal details of a police officer believed to be the one who shot an Indonesian journalist in the eye with a less-lethal round in September.
Mohammed defended the arrest, which has already drawn outrage from Cheng’s allies, suggesting it was necessary to prevent physical violence from manifesting.
“If you look online, there are a lot of words which are in fact, causing a lot of incitement,” he said. “What we have noticed in the past eight, nine months is that somebody incites some violence and you see it happening on the streets immediately. That’s what concerns us and that’s why we have to take appropriate enforcement action against people who breach the law.”
Despite last year’s anti-government protest movement increasingly descending into violence as it wore on for months in the face of government intransigence, aside from a handful of isolated demonstrations, angry crowds have all but disappeared from Hong Kong’s streets in recent months.
According to the SCMP, in the offending post, Cheng commented: “If this officer still has good conscience, please turn yourself in. An eye for an eye!”
“An eye for an eye” became a rallying cry last year after the blinding not only of the journalist, Indonesian national Veby Mega Indah, but also of another young woman who was similarly shot with a less-lethal projectile.
Indah’s blinding was one of the most widely circulated incidents of police’s misuse of force during last year’s months-long anti-government protest movement, drawing wide public outrage both at the act itself, and the force’s unwillingness to identify the perpetrator (as has been the case for almost all of the myriad accusations of police brutality).
Indah has sought to privately prosecute the officer, but the force, despite identifying an officer who fired a shot in the area at the time of her injury, has resisted identifying him to the court. A six-month time limit on such prosecutions against police officers could elapse this month.
Meanwhile, the colonial-era law under which Cheng has been accused defines “seditious intention” as attempting “to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the person of Her Majesty, or Her Heirs or Successors, or against the Government of Hong Kong,” or to “incite persons to violence” or “counsel disobedience.”
The law notes, however, that statements are not seditious if made “to point out errors or defects in the government or constitution of Hong Kong,” or to “persuade Her Majesty’s subjects or inhabitants of Hong Kong to attempt to procure by lawful means the alteration of any matter.”
The controversial law has been called into question by the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Hong Kong Law Society, who characterized it as outdated, and called for its abolition ahead of the handover back in 1996.