Pro-democracy lawmakers have drafted a bill to amend the Public Order Ordinance to change the definitions of unlawful assembly and a riot. They also seek to reduce the relevant punishments for the charges.
Democrats Au Nok-hin and Eddie Chu wrote a private members’ bill in order to amend the maximum sentence for unlawful assembly from three years to six months, and reduce the possible sentence for rioting from ten years to three.
They proposed changing the requirement for an unlawful assembly conviction, from “breach of peace” to a more specific charge of “using violence to disrupt public order.” They also proposed that, if people did not use violence, or did not realise their actions may be violent, they should not be convicted of rioting, or assisting or abetting rioting.
The characterisation of recent protests as “riots” is controversial and, during the recent demonstrations which began in June, demonstrators have demanded that the government stop using the phrase.
The democrats further proposed that for one to be convicted of rioting, the minimum number of people involved should increase from three to 12, and they must have a “common purpose.” Rioting cases should only be tried at Court of First Instance or above with a jury, they suggested.
Au said the text of the draft bill has been approved by the Department of Justice. The bill will require written approval by Chief Executive Carrie Lam before it can be discussed at the Legislative Council.
After almost six months of large scale protests in Hong Kong, more than 5,800 people have been arrested. Of which, around 500 have been charged with rioting.
Au said the Public Order Ordinance was established in 1967 to curb the leftist riots that year. It increased the maximum sentence for rioting from two years to ten years, and removed the requirement of “common purpose” for conviction.
“We see that foreign countries, especially our colonial sovereign the UK, have done a lot of reviews of public order laws, but Hong Kong did not. Our current laws are outdated, especially over their definitions such as ‘breach of peace’ – the UK does not use this as the requirement for conviction anymore,” he said.
“Why can the police arrest protesters without any proper basis? It is because the definitions [in the laws] are too vague,” he added.
Lawmaker Eddie Chu said it would be an important test as to whether Carrie Lam would allow the draft bill to be discussed at the legislature, as the chief executive is able to block certain bills.
“When the government is under international pressure, will it still use the evil law against us?” he asked.
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