During 2014, 1,726 people were arrested during protests and 262 were prosecuted. The new figures, which relate to the year of the pro-democracy Occupy demonstrations, represent a six-fold increase in arrests from the previous year. According to Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok, 955 people were arrested during the Occupy protests and another 48 were arrested after the event.
The statistics were released after pro-Beijing DAB lawmaker Elizabeth Quat asked whether the government will increase penalties to deter protesters from engaging in illegal acts. Quat asked the security secretary for the details at a Legislative Council session. She also questioned whether punishments for people convicted were “overly lenient” and lacked a deterrent effect.
“People therefore consider that the legal consequences for organising and carrying out violent activities are negligible,” she said.
Quat said that, although freedom of assembly is guaranteed under Article 27 of the Basic Law, “quite a number of people committed violent acts during demonstrations in recent years”. She asked specifically for numbers on protesters arrested in connection with the pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2014.
Lai also said that the government “strongly condemns the violent, charging and illegal acts of radical demonstrators in public order events in recent years”, but currently has no plan to amend the penalties in the relevant legislation. He also said that, while the police do not generally maintain statistics on people guilty of illegal acts in these events, they do have figures specifically on the 2014 Occupy movement, because it “seriously upset the rule of law, public safety and social order of Hong Kong.”
Of the 1,003 Occupy-related arrests, judicial proceedings have commenced for 216 of them, while 182 have already undergone the judicial process. Of these, 116 are facing legal consequences, with 74 convicted and 42 given a binding over order.
The offences included unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapon, common assault, assaulting police officer, theft, indecent assault, criminal intimidation and possession of dangerous drugs etc.
Government figures also show that there was a spike in the numbers of public order event-related prosecutions and arrests in 2014. In total, 1,726 were arrested that year, as opposed to 149 arrests in 2015.
Lai said that when protesters do not act in a peaceful and orderly manner and engage in illegal or violent acts, the police would not hesitate to enforce the law. Lai also said that it is the Department of Justice that makes decisions relating to prosecution, and that they respect the rulings of the court. While the DoJ and the police work as quickly as they can, the police do not maintain statistics on court sentences of public order cases or the time required for processing criminal cases, he said.
The government also said on Wednesday that the police have arrested 75 people over the Mong Kok protests triggered by the clearing of street hawkers last month. Among them, 48 have been prosecuted for rioting, while one has been charged with unlawful assembly.