A police liaison officer says the police crackdown on the 16th Hong Kong Ride of Silence may have been justified if organisers had made any kind of speech to reporters or on air.
The officer, identified only as Chloe and who works as an event liaison officer for Hong Kong Island, was responding to questions on why the Ride of Silence event was hit with $70,000 worth of fines under Cap 599G, the “group gathering law”. Participants were ticketed even standing alone or in groups of two well away from other cyclists.
When asked what was the difference between, for example, a police-sanctioned environmental activist group doing a fundraising yoga event for 20 people in Tamar park and the Ride of Silence, Chloe replied the issue was whether the speech “was given to reporters or not”.
“I suppose making a speech to the participants and making a speech on air/ to reporters are not the same. If merely making a speech to the participants u can regard as just talking to them,” she said.
Chloe said she would not see a problem with a “pure cycling” gathering. “Do u have banners to display or flags? If only biking I don’t see any problems to be honest,” she said in a WhatsApp message.
In fact, organisers had made sure to keep well within the group gathering guidelines and had discussed Covid-19 safety protocols with police beforehand.
“They told us, no banners or loudspeakers, no ‘common purpose’ or groups more than four people, and we complied,” says Martin Turner, organiser of the event.
Chloe also cited Cap. 599G which states that sporting, social or cultural events are acceptable.
“What matters is the distance and the number of ppl in each small groups,” she said.
But these statements contradicted actions of the police, who ticketed people standing solo or in groups of two or three, simply for being with a bicycle in proximity to a “virtual ride” starting point, the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower.
Colin Bosher, who planned to cycle the traditional Ride of Silence route from Tsim Sha Tsui to Sham Shui Po on 19 May, and says he will fight his $5,000 ticket, says he took organisers’ warning instructions seriously and, on arrival at the start point, made sure to stay apart from other riders.
“Some riders may have formed loose groups of more than four people. It is possible. But I myself did not join any of the larger-looking groups and when I was approached by a policeman and asked for my ID card, I was near two other riders only – just near them, we were not talking to each other or having any kind of a meeting. One officer was videoing us, so that will show just how many of us there were,” says Bosher.
“It was then a shock to find out that I was being issued a Fixed Penalty Ticket under the Prevention & Control of Disease (Prohibition on Group Gathering) Regulation.”
“I protested that I was not in a group of four or more people and the argument thrown back at me by the officer booking me was that I was part of a gathering ‘with a Common Intent’. Yes, but my intent was to go cycling with a maximum of three other people.”
Police claim the event broke the rules and that they had given warnings to disperse.
“The officers of Tsim Sha Tsui Division and Police Tactical Unit Kowloon West found that a group of people was gathering near Hong Kong Clock Tower in Tsim Sha Tsui at around 1830 hrs on May 19, which was suspected of violating the Prevention and Control of Disease (Prohibition on Group Gathering) Regulation (Cap. 599G). Upon verbal warning by relevant department, those people did not disperse. Police therefore issued fixed penalty notices to 14 males and a female aged from 14 to 71,” said a police spokesperson.
But at least four of the prosecuted attendees dispute this account, with three of those arriving separately at around 6.30pm claiming they were ticketed without any warning.
One, who was leaving as reporters arrived, stated there was clearly no prior warning to disperse. “We just got a ticket. They said if we stay here, we will get another ticket. If I get another $5,000 ticket I will need to sell my bike to pay for it,” he said, leaving the scene.
Bosher says while he paid the fine, he will fight the ticket. “While Cap 599G is intended to limit the potential for spread of Covid-19, I suggest that the police application of it regarding non-physical association, such as this, does not well serve the public, the fight against the epidemic, or the Police,” he says.
Organiser Martin Turner says the story is only now emerging that people ticketed were in fact in groups of less than four.
“This is important to me as we now find there were charges at the event of gathering ‘with a common intent’, while not actually in excess of four, or not having a bell etc,” he says.
“I wish I’d realised this when media first approached me, when I believed police were merely being zealous on specifics, but not this monstrous assault,” says Turner, who had given several interviews after the police action, including to Apple Daily and RTHK.