Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor

Beethoven's 5th --- Courtesy of the Police

Twelve representatives of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor provided neutral observation of six demonstrations on June 29, June 30, and the early hours of July 1. The events monitored included demonstrations by: United Front Against the Provisional Legislature on July 29 and June 30-July 1 at the Convention Centre, People's Coalition for an Alternative Handover on June 30 at Statue Square, April 5th on June 30-July 1 at the Convention Centre, Frontier and other non-governmental organisations on July 1 at LegCo, and Democratic Party on July 1 at LegCo. The Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor appreciates Assistant Police Commissioner Dick Lee allowing us to provide this human rights monitoring of the transitional events.

Overall, our impressions of police and demonstrator behavior were positive. The main concern of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, which occurred in a variety of forms, is that demonstrators were not fully granted their right to free expression. The greatest limitation on freedom on expression with respect to the demonstrations was that the allowed protest areas were too far from the official sites. These locations prevented demonstrators from conveying their message to their intended audience and thus curtailed their expressive rights. Efforts of a few demonstrators to go beyond the limits of designated protest venues may to some extent be a result of and reaction to this over-regulation of expression.

In general, the police were very well organized, sensitive, and legitimate. Most of their behavior showed a good balance between respecting liberty and maintaining order. The one arrest which we monitored soon after midnight at the Convention Centre appeared to be lawful. Similarly, the bulk of demonstrations we observed were peaceful and law-abiding. They attempted to express themselves while cooperating with the police.

The main blemish on this otherwise successful series of events was the police's use of music to drown out demonstrators at the Convention Centre around midnight on June 30-July 1. The police unlawfully blocked off an overhead walkway to set up a sound system and played Beethoven's 5th from it. One of our monitors overheard the police radio at 12:35 a.m. saying that Assistant Commissioner Dick Lee ordered for the music to be made louder as the demonstrators became louder. This use of music to prevent demonstrators from being heard is an unacceptable and unlawful curtailment of their right to freedom of expression.

The police use of barricades is the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor's other area of concern. Although barricades are an important tool in maintaining order, they sometimes were used to marshal demonstrators, media, and onlookers into an increasingly smaller area. Had the crowd been larger or less well-behaved, this use of barricades could have been dangerous. The delimitation of a too narrow space also resulted into a spill-over into the street, decreasing order.

1997 (c) Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor