16 July 2019
Do you prefer to be an egg or a high wall? The question gains relevance in the case involving Joshua Wong. Photos:, HKEJ
Do you prefer to be an egg or a high wall? The question gains relevance in the case involving Joshua Wong. Photos:, HKEJ

How the HK legal system deals with ‘high walls’ and ‘eggs’

In 2009, celebrated author Haruki Murakami made a controversial trip to Jerusalem to accept a literary award amid calls by rights activists to boycott the event in protest of Israel’s recent bombing of Gaza.

He said: “Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.”

Many critics and fans were puzzled by his words. Murakami later explained that the wall represents the system, while the egg represents the people who stand against it.

Apparently, he was assailing the Israeli government for its policies that oppress the Palestinian people.

We recall his words because in Hong Kong, throwing eggs at public figures could result in different court rulings, implying that the workings of our legal system depend on the personalities involved.

On Wednesday, two men who threw eggs at student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung were fined HK$3,000 each by the Kowloon City Court.

Transport workers Li Wong and Cheung Ka-shing had pleaded guilty to a charge of common assault, noting that last year’s Occupy protests, of which Wong was a leader, affected their business.

In passing sentence, Magistrate Eric Cheung said the fact that the defendants assaulted Wong right outside the court building had aggravated the gravity of the offense.

But it seemed to many that the fines imposed by the magistrate were quite lenient.

In November last year, pro-democracy activist Derek Chan Tak-cheung was sentenced to three weeks in jail for throwing an egg at Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah during a political forum in 2013.

In his defense, Chan cited Murakami’s speech, portraying himself as an egg against the high wall of people in power.

He said the act of throwing an egg at the financial secretary was an exercise of his freedom of expression against the wall.

But Magistrate So Wai-tak of the Eastern Magistry Court was not impressed, and ruled that there was “no room or justification for reduction” of Chan’s sentence.

And so we are faced with the same offense resulting in two sorts of punishments. What could have been the difference between the two cases?

In one case, two workers committed the act to express their anger at a mass action led by a student activist for disrupting their business, and in the other, an activist committed the same act to protest against a top government official?

The only obvious difference is that the lighter punishment went to the case where the victim is a student activist while the jail term was imposed in the case where the victim is a top government official.

An expert in the legal profession said court rulings differ from case to case and depend on the magistrate’s own judgement, in which case it may not appropriate to compare the two cases.

However, from the viewpoint of democracy advocates, the judgement on Joshua Wong’s case shows that the justice system in Hong Kong is not treating everyone equally.

It appears that the government is quite keen on using the legal system as a tool to advance its political agenda, the latest example of which is the arrest of several student leaders for their role in the storming of the Civic Square outside the Central Government Offices in September last year.

The government has decided to charge student leaders Alex Chow Yong-kang, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Joshua Wong with inciting other people to join an unlawful assembly, joining an unlawful assembly, or both. They have been invited to report to the police next week.

What the public is concerned about is that the police have been investigating the Occupy Movement for so long, but decided to file charges only now, or almost a year after the protests.

That’s why Chow describes the police action as “an act of oppression”.

Chow believes the filing of charges is only the start of the government’s “revenge” against the protesters who challenged what he called “a small circle election” proposed by the central and the Hong Kong governments for 2017.

He also expects the police to target more protesters who took part in last year’s Occupy Movement.

Some political analysts noted that the government action came before the protesters could once again gather outside the government headquarters in late September to commemorate the first anniversary of the Occupy Movement, as well as to prevent them from staging mass actions before the District Council elections in November.

It is quite clear that the government is using the charges to limit the student leaders’ freedom in pursuing a new round of protests. The timing is quite suspicious.

However, the Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung dismissed the allegations. He said it was unfair to accuse the authorities of harboring political considerations whenever high-profile student activists or legislators are charged.

“Prosecutions by the Department of Justice are not influenced by the District Council or any other election,” Yuen said. “I can assure you that when my colleagues from the prosecutions division and I make any decision, we do not include any political considerations.”

His response is understandable. But if the government wants to win back the public’s trust, they should show fairness in handling cases involving political personalities.

For example, they should file charges against the seven police officers accused of beating up pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu in Admiralty in October last year. 

Why can’t they do that immediately? Are they buying time until the case fades away in the public eye?

With the government’s questionable handling of cases, the public can’t help getting suspicious.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe