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Hong Kong: A 10-dollar coin to pledge against political harassment

During the protests over the demolition of Queen's Pier in 2007, two of the preservation activists Ho Loy and Chu Hoi-dick filed a judicial review (30-7-2007) against the secretary for home affair's administrative decision on not declaring Queen's Pier as historical monument according to the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance Cap.53. The case was dismissed by the court eventually.

Although they had granted legal aid on August 6, 2007 to cover the cost of the case, the court ruled that they had to pay for the expenses of the government's lawyers prior to legal aid being granted. Their lawyers estimated the amount to be “between several tens of thousands and a hundred something thousand.” Even though they wanted to appeal for the costs order, the Legal Aid Department said that their appeal carried no public interest and rejected their application. They were forced to drop the case.

In July 2009, almost two years later, Chu and Ho received the government's bill over the court fees, the amount was up to HKD270,000 (around USD38,000). ESWN has translated the time line and you can read the breakdown here (via inmediahk):

Chu Hoidick explained the background of the government bill and its chilling effect in his citizen report at inmediahk.net:

大家看看張單,part I的第七項和part II的第八項指出,做這個初步訟費評估只用了五小時。因此,按道理,律政署在零七年十一月十七日,即我和何來放棄就堂費上訴後的短時間內,已經可以計出訟費並開始向我們追討。他們沒有這做,因為他們有酌情權在其認為合適的時間開單,不需要向外界交代。結果他們選擇在二零零九年七月才把這一件只需做五小時的工作完成,接着,律政署可以在六年內的任何時間向我們追討這筆錢,也可以不追我們,也可以向法院申請將我們破產,也可以在過了五年零十一個月後再發一封追債信,將追債期再延長六年,經年的陰影。

Please take a look at the bill, in part I item 7 and part II item 8, the estimation of cost only takes 5 hours, which means the Department of Justice could have forwarded the bill to us within a few days after the costs order appeal. However, they didn't do so because they could decide when exactly to mail out the bill without giving any explanation. Eventually they chose July 2009 to issue this bill. Then the Department of Justice could chase after this debt whenever they like within six years. They could also go to the court to apply for a bankruptcy order, or extend the bill for another six years after five years and eleven months to haunt us forever.

There are some speculations on why the government suddenly decided to issue the bill after 2 years. Hoidick wrote:

實際上講,在此時出手搞我們,就令我不得不花時間和精神處理,煩老半天,多少菜園村的文宣工作都要託人代辦。

Practically speaking, such nuisances have consumed much of our time and energy, and I have to leave my work on Choi Yuen Village for others.

Chu Hoidick has been involved in the preservation of Choi Yuen Village against the construction of a huge parking site for Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong inter-city rapid train since early February 2009. Last month, the campaign had collected more than 10,000 opposition appeals against the construction plan, but the government dismissed all the appeals with some technical reasons.

Apart from creating a chilling effect, Hoidick also pointed out that the government's action has destroyed the legal aid's principle in protecting citizen's right in monitoring the government through Judicial review:

當日高等法院聆案官歐陽桂如判我們上訴得直可獲法援,意思當然是不希望我們因皇后碼頭司法覆核的官司惹來承擔不起的債務,但目前的法援保護期由獲批准當天才算起,不能追溯同一個審訊在法援獲批前的費用,結果就出現了現在這個不合常理的局面:法援獲批,但批准前的訴訟費已足以令人破產。

The reason why the High Court judge accepted our appeal for legal aid because he didn't want to see us in debts due to the Queen's pier judicial review. If the legal aid only covered the period after its approval rather than the whole period, even though we had legal aid, we would still be bankrupted because of the charge.

Blogger Kay Lam compared the repression of preservation activists in Hong Kong and their counterpart, human rights activists in China:

最絕的就係,想以法緩的漏洞,去令朱凱迪破產,就和內地政府不斷打壓維權人士一樣,就和最新今日大陸政府以「煽動顛覆國家政權罪」去控告用相片踢爆四川地震學校豆腐渣工程的譚作人一樣,去打壓香港年輕人的有心之士。

The government is so hard handed in making use of the technical flaws in our legal aid system to punish Chu Hoi Dick and made him bankrupt. This is similar to the practice of China government in repressing human rights activist Tan Zuoren, who disclosed the bean dreg school building construction problem in the Sichuan earthquake, with the charge of inciting sedition.

既然政府要二十七萬,我們可有承擔,連「當底褲」的錢都拿出來,就籌二十七萬的一元硬幣,去掟律政署?去派膠畀律政署?既然政府要呢筆錢,我地就拿出呢筆錢出來,當眾顯示畀社會睇下,香港政府如何無良地,去迫害保衛香港文化價值的年輕社運勇士。

曾蔭權,你敢收這筆錢嗎?黃仁龍,你敢收這筆錢嗎?

If the government wants this 270,000, let us pay for the bill with our pocket money. Let's change the paper money into coins and throw them to the Department of Justice. If the government wants the money, let us pay for it and let the public witness what has this government done to prosecute our young hero who is devoted to protect our culture.

Donald Tsang (the Chief Executive of Hong Kong government) dare you receive the money? Wong Yan-Lung (Head of the Department of Justice) dare you receive the money?

Chong also compared the repression of Gong Meng, a Beijing based group which provides legal assistance to the social minorities, by the China government through the charge of evading tax with the Queen's Pier Judicial Review case:

What makes these two incidents similiar and unusual is money. In the past, coercion is the Beijing government's favourite mean. The Hong Kong government always acts like a lenient authority. Probably now they already make up their mind to learn more from the Singapore government to use money to crackdown on the civil society.

In response to the nasty trick of the government, Facebook user Dorthinick Shepherd created a group, Fight back the 270,000 prosecution, throw a ten dollar coin to the Department of Justice 反擊廿七萬秋后算賬 ,一人十蚊掟響律政署大行動 on 31 of July. The group invites individuals to pledge that they would contribute at least a 10 dollar coin for future action if the government dares to pursue the 270,000 bill. The group statement says:

政府想把社會集體異議運動的代價壓在貧窮的個人身上,我們就讓他們看到個體集結的力量;政府想用錢來恫嚇人民,我們就讓政府知道,化整為零後,錢也可以成為人民的武器。政府發行的十元硬幣,將變作大衛小子的石頭,擊倒巨人哥利亞。這是一場長期戰役。

Now that the government wants the poor individuals to pay for dissent campaign, let us manifest the individual's power by getting together. Now that the government wants to threaten people with the legal cost bill, let us demonstrate with little that we have, by getting together, money can also be our weapon to fight back. Let's turn the 10 dollar coin issued by the government into David's stone and use it to defeat the giant Goliath, this is gonna be a long battle.

Within three days, more than 1,395 facebook members have signed up to the group. An email 10dollars4hk@gmail.com has been set up to coordinate the 10 dollar pledge action. Contributors are asked to provide name, phone number and a contribution amount to register for the pledge. Here is Hoidick's initial report (via facebook group):

至八月三日下午四點:241人認捐27464元
至八月三日下午三點:224人認捐25564元
至八月三日早上十一點:125人認捐16664元
至八月三日凌晨一點:56人認捐7423元

Aug 3 4pm: 241 people's pledges to contribute 27,464
Aug 3 3pm: 224 people's pledges to contribute 25,564
Aug 3 11am: 125 people's pledges to contribute 16,664
Aug 3 1am: 56 people's pledges to contribute 7,432

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