Hong Kong Lawyer critique on Anti-Stalking Law (2)

2012-03-12 - Kenny

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If stalking law was passed, Hong Kong journalist may no longer took their pictures at Henry Tang’s mansion in this way (Picture from)

[Note: The Hong Kong government is consulting the public on stalking. Journalists and activists are worried that their right of reporting and demonstration will be threatened. Chong Yiu-kwong, a Hong Kong lawyer, wrote articles to express view on this issue.]

Chinese original text:Ming Pao (25.2.2012)

Would the magnificent view of derrick cars lining up outside Henry Tang’s (Hong Kong former Financial Secretary, current candidate of Chief Executive election 2012) mansion still appear after stalking is legislated? Whoever from the pro-government camp win the election would very likely push for this regulation that shelter the powerful and the rich.

The government is consulting the public on criminalization of stalking, which includes whether harassment, collective harassment and harassing acts of deterring lawful activities. However, the definition of stalking is very broad. Added to the government’s tightening on freedom of press and expression in recent years, for instance, arresting journalists and interrupting their reporting,
large scale arrests of demonstrators, the law provokes fear that once it is legislated, not only freedom of press and demonstration would be damaged, actions of labour unions and daily lives might also be deeply affected. It seems another approach carrying the same purpose of Article 23.

News-gathering becomes harassment

Stalking refer to a “course of conduct causing another person alarm or distress” or “a course of conduct directed to someone which is considered by a reasonable person to be harassing.” In terms of news reporting, when a person is followed for the purpose of news-gathering, stalked, monitored, investigated, continuously called or texted messages, this person can see these as stalking and
report to the police. As a result, newsgathering could be interrupted. Subjects pursued by journalists can thereby avoid the journalists and monitoring of the society. If prosecuted, journalists have to use “reasonable conduct” as defense on the law court, which will increase the cost of news production and which could lead to self-censorship, lest they will trespass the law.

Protests and expressions become harassment

Collective harassment refers to harassment committed by more than one person, while each perpetrators only undertakes one act of harassment. When people to whom protests are directed feel harassed by the corresponding actions, they can report to the police and protest will be obstructed immediately. Protesters can excuse themselves in a law court with “reasonable conduct”. But they have to defense to justify themselves. This easily creates white terror. When victims of
Lehman Brothers protested outside banks and residents of Mei Foo stood against Ever tech Property Limited outside their contractor site, protest targets applied for restraining order in order to obstruct the protests. If in the future stalking is made a criminal offence, protest targets can report to the police at will to stop protests. This further damages the freedom of expression.

Labour union activities become harassment

Harassment to deter lawful activities refers to a course of harassing conduct committed by two or more people which stops a person to do what is in his or her right to do. If a labour union calls upon staff to strike or to resist against unreasonable policies, employers can consider it as “deterring lawful activities (going to work)” and therefore report to the police. Stalking in this case immediately becomes a tool to suppress union organisations.

Daily activities become harassments

In addition to journalists, protesters and labour unions, citizens’ daily lives might also be affected by anti-stalking act. Hastening friends to return debts, pressing fellow schoolmates or colleagues to finish their work, Internet users criticizing or denouncing certain person continuously on the Internet, leaving messages or “Like” more than once on Facebook of target lover, complainant sending letter
of complaint more than once to a company or an organization, organizations or political party calling someone more than once to give care and concern, setting up booth on the street to ask for signatures from the public, the “old man of Victoria park” in 城市論壇 (a live broadcast forum on HK current affairs produced by RTHK), etc. Any of these activities that is done more than one time
and are deemed by the others as harassing would lead to intervention of the police and probably legal problems.

More reports:
Hong Kong Lawyer critique on Stalking Law (1)
Channel 4 News:Injunction stops power protest (20.3.2007)
BBC:Is it a crime to take pictures? (16.2.2009)
Video: Whatever Happened to People Power (3.7.2009)