SCMP Monday, November 6, 2000

Stern words scare off students


Fewer than half the students who were expected to attend a forum on controversial public assembly laws turned up yesterday after the security chief warned against unauthorised rallies.
The Hong Kong Federation of Students expected 100 people, including at least 50 students, to take part in the forum to discuss the Public Order Ordinance held in Central yesterday.
But fewer than 20 students turned up for the discussion, which attracted about 40 people at its peak - fewer than the 50 for which the law requires police to be notified in advance.
Federation spokesman Lo Wai-ming said: "Some students told us that it was not convenient for them as they said they had felt pressure from their families after the Secretary for Security [Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee] issued a warning on Saturday."
Mrs Ip warned that the Government reserved the right to take action against participants of any unauthorised rally. She has also branded the young activists who have been leading unauthorised protests against the Public Order Ordinance "a headache" for authorities.
Seven student leaders last month escaped charges over an unauthorised protest on the right-of-abode issue on June 26. But they were warned of possible prosecution if they violated the ordinance again.
The ordinance requires police to be notified seven days in advance of marches of more than 30 people or assemblies of more than 50. The students and other activists have insisted the requirement is a breach of human rights.
The students only notified the police 24 hours before their forum yesterday.
About 10 uniformed police officers monitored the forum while 40 police tactical unit officers were on standby. There were also two teams of officers filming the forum.
While the students criticised the police presence as excessive, Central District Commander Chief Superintendent Mike Francis said the deployment was needed as the students had not said how many people would turn up. He said part of their manpower was for visiting Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference chairman Li Ruihuan, who was also in Central yesterday.
Mr Francis said the filming was needed in case the situation turned chaotic. The videotapes would be disposed of later if the event ended peacefully.
Democrat legislator James To Kun-sun, who attended the forum, criticised Mrs Ip's remarks on the students as lacking the necessary breadth of opinion a security chief should have. "She appeared annoyed and agitated," he said.
Mr To, who is seeking to amend the ordinance, said he would discuss with other concern groups a draft amendment today and meet Mrs Ip later this month. In addition, this week Human Rights Monitor will issue a study of legal analysis on why the assembly laws need to be revised.
The students sent an invitation to Mrs Ip on Saturday to attend a forthcoming seminar on the ordinance at Chinese University, where more students would be able to take part. But Mrs Ip said talks on a college campus could easily degenerate into noisy arguments.