An OccupyHK arrestee tells his story

Paul Christensen was arrested by police on 15 October 2014 on Lung Wo Road in Admiralty during the occupations demanding genuine universal suffrage. Below is his account of the arrest and what followed, including the Department of Justice’s eventual decision six months later to prosecute him.

His account raises questions regarding the coherence of the policies and procedures followed by the HK police and Department of Justice in deciding whom to prosecute. As noted elsewhere, only a small fraction of the over 1,500 people arrested in connection with pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong have been prosecuted: Why them and not others? What does it say about the consistent position of the HK government and police that the occupations were “illegal” when they have failed to demonstrate that to any significant degree in courts of law? Have the HK police arrested people in large numbers without any intention to hold them legally accountable for the crimes they are suspected of having committed, and if so, is arrest and laying of criminal charges without intention to prosecute proper police conduct?

I was arrested with about 45 others at Lung Wo Road at about 03:10 on 15th October on suspicion of unlawful assembly and obstructing a police officer. Essentially, I sat, passively, in the spirit of non-violent civil disobedience on top of the barricade that had been built across Lung Wo Road that night. When asked to move I did not respond for about 23 seconds, at which point two officers assisted me from my perch and arrested me. Along with about 45 others, I was held in a coach, taken (for reasons that I never really understood) to sit outside Central Police Station for a while, and then on to the Police Training College in Wong Chuk Hang. Here we were held in two classrooms (20 or so per room) the basic arrest paperwork and initial statements were taken by uniformed police (all the arrestees said nothing). We were fed breakfast and lunch (very basic food — only eat if you’re really hungry!) and everything was quite relaxed, but very boring. Mid-afternoon we were then put back into coaches and moved to North Point police station, where we sat in the (indoor) car park for a few more hours; more paperwork was done, much of it replicating the paperwork done at Wong Chuk Hang for reasons that I really don’t understand. We were then individually interviewed by “detectives” (plain clothes from the Organised Crime & Triad Bureau); my case was one of the last dealt with because they seemed unable to find an OCTB person who was confident enough in their written and spoken English and they needed to bring in an official interpreter! I was eventually released on police bail (“on my own recognizance — i.e. no money needed) at about 10:30pm to report back to Central police station on 14th November.

As an aside, I happened to see the police document listing the names, ages and occupations of the 45 arrested that night. My estimate on a quick scan was that 15 or at most 20 were students. Amongst the others I spotted “graphic designer”, “hairdresser”, “restaurant manager” and various other occupations. One of the arrestees was in a 3-piece suit, another lady was in a long dress and shawl like she had just come from a formal dinner or concert! Several were in their late 30s and 40s; I was 51, but I think not the oldest.

When I reported back on the 14th November (several other arrestees were also at the station at the same time) the police said that they would like to extend my bail, but by then I’d done my homework and, like all the others, declined this and told then to charge me or release me. They released me but with a statement that I remained under investigation and could be rearrested at any time.

On the morning of 14th April I was indeed rearrested by plain clothes policemen (and one woman) “laying in ambush” (as their notes put it) outside my apartment; apparently they had been there since 6am, but being retired I didn’t actually open my front door until about 10am, at which point a foot was inserted to stop me closing it again (great reaction speed given they’d been stood there silent and bored out of their minds for 4 hours!). After they produced their IDs and said why they were there everything was quite relaxed; this time they’d sent an officer who spoke excellent English (studied and lived in the UK for 8 years) and quite relaxed about the whole thing (in fact we had quite a good chat). I was taken to Central Police Station and formally charged with the single count of Obstructing a Police Officer in the course of his duties. I was bailed in the sum of $300 (it would normally be $500 but that morning I didn’t happen to have $500 in my wallet!) and instructed to appear the next morning at Eastern Magistrates Court in Sai Wan Ho.

So on 15th April I duly appeared at Eastern Magistracy before Mrs Bina Chainrai (the Principal Magistrate there). After quick advice from the duty lawyer I pleaded not guilty and was bailed (sum increased to $500) to appear again on 26th May. I declined any further service from the duty lawyers at that point, and consulted informally with several lawyer friends and acquaintances. Some tried hard to sell me their services, but others offered what turned out to be the best advice: handle it personally and talk direct to the case officer and prosecution.

Again as an aside, I believe that most, if not all, of the others arrested are being provided with legal assistance free of charge by Michael Vidler and people associated with him. For some reason, they never approached me to offer their services (I guess they weren’t quite sure how to approach me since a 50+ gweilo doesn’t fit their model of rebellious youth, rights violations and so on). The other arrestees seem happy with the advice and support they have been getting though.

So, having got the Brief Facts of the case document from the duty lawyers, I wrote personally directly to the case officer for copies of the witness statements and video evidence. These were supplied fairly promptly (although slightly bizarrely by a plain clothes officer approaching me in the street and handing over a brown envelope with photocopies and CDs). I sat and reviewed several hours of video, including my arrest from two different angles, and much scene-setting from earlier in the evening.

After reviewing the evidence, and with the advice of the more helpful of my lawyer friends, I personally wrote via the case officer to the prosecution requesting consideration of an ONE bind over. An Offer No Evidence (ONE) bind over, is a possible outcome for a legal case here which I hadn’t previously come across. Essentially the defendant (me) admits to the facts of the case as read out in open court, the prosecution then offers no evidence to the charge and the magistrate formally acquits the defendant, but binds them over to be of good behaviour (which means that if I commit a further offence within 12 months then, in addition to the penalty for that offence, I have to pay $1000).

And so, on 22nd May I received a letter from the Department of Justice saying that after reviewing my case and my representations to them they would agree to an ONE bind over, and on 26th May this was formalised at Eastern Magistracy by Mrs Chainrai. I was ordered to pay $500 costs (i.e. I didn’t get my bail money back), and bound over for 12 months in the sum of $1000 on standard conditions plus “not to commit or attempt to commit any criminal act involving nuisance / wasteful employment of public officer & obstructing a police officer in the course of his duty”

For me this is the best possible outcome. The essence of non-violent civil disobedience is knowingly to commit a minor offence in a greater cause (real democracy in this case); it has a long and honourable history. So I didn’t want to take a course which would involve me denying what I did, but, on the other hand, obviously I would prefer not to have a criminal record and go to jail. This result achieves that, although Mrs Chainrai was clearly a bit miffed that, having chosen me as one of the few out of the 1500+ arrestees to prosecute, the prosecution then apparently changed their minds a month later!

17 June 2015

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Author of ‘Umbrella: A Political Tale from Hong Kong’ and ‘As long as there is resistance, there is hope: Essays on the Hong Kong freedom struggle…’

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