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‘Online incitement also carries a legal liability’

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'Online incitement also carries a legal liability'

Updated: 2019-11-02 08:42

By Joseph Li in Hong Kong(HK Edition)

The High Court ban on online incitement of violence and vandalism shows that the internet is also subject to legal liabilities, said Security Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu.

There is a need to emphasize that conversations in cyberspace are not immune from legal consequences, Lee said, referring to the rationale behind the government's application for the interim court injunction order to ban violence-inciting messages on instant messaging apps and online forums.

The justice secretary, as applicant for the injunction, fully considered the severe violence that has occurred in the city over the past months before filing the application.

"As the judge said when granting the interim injunction, a clear message that activities in the cyber world are still subject to controls is very important although such crimes are regulated by existing criminal legislation.

"Yes it is not as easy to collect evidence and prosecute cyber activities as IT (information technology) experts suggest. Evidence collection of any type of crime is not easy, but this is not the reason not to make law against certain acts," he said.

Anti-mask law effectiveness

Asked why many protesters are still wearing face masks and if the new face mask ban was effective, Lee said it is still too early to assess the effectiveness of the anti-mask law, which came into effect on Oct 5.

"We need more time to assess the effectiveness of the anti-mask law, but it definitely helps police investigations," he added.

"Their reaction (to continue to wear masks) is expected because they are targeted by the new law. With so many masked protesters, police need a longer period of time to identify the offenders and collect evidence. With the power to ask the protesters to take off their masks, police can speed up identification and investigation of the protesters."

Lee referred to a recent media interview of a protester, who said that when he is masked, there is a greater tendency for him to resort to violence and to commit crimes.

Lee added that most Hong Kong citizens are nonviolent and law-abiding. When the mask ban is in force, they are afraid to commit an offense if they wear masks at protests and they would rather stay away from protest activities.

"The mask ban may be one of the reasons why the number of protesters has dropped recently, although the scale of violence has sharply escalated," the security minister said. "I hope the anti-mask law will achieve its purpose after it is in place for some time."

It is easy to prove a person has violated the anti-mask law, which carries a maximum jail term of 12 months, so if courts impose sentences quickly, that will be a sufficient deterrent, he said.

Police backed

Lee stressed that the police force has the full support of the government, which has pledged to provide additional manpower, equipment, anti-riot gear the force needs, such as gear to protect police officers from attacks by lethal weapons and corrosive liquids. Moreover, the government will provide whatever possible legal means to enhance law enforcement.

Although police are exhausted from working long hours, morale is high as they are very firm and resolute in their actions, Lee said. Apart from dispersing and arresting protesters, police have enhanced their intelligence functions and seized warehouses where weapons and tools are being stored.


(HK Edition 11/02/2019 page2)

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