A scarf with the words “reclaim Hong Kong” landed a supporter of Hong Kong localist Edward Leung Tin-kei in hot water on Wednesday, and she was convicted of contempt of court but granted bail without having to pay cash.
Alexandra Wong Fung-yiu, 61, who had been coming daily to the high-profile riot trial of Leung and four other co-defendants at the High Court, did not get a chance to defend herself.
Madam Justice Anthea Pang Po-kam told her to return on March 29 – or bring along a lawyer – for sentencing.
The incident raised eyebrows among legal experts, who called it “disturbing” and “extreme”, as the woman’s right to observe the hearing was pitted against the court’s need to run its trial smoothly.
On Wednesday, Wong, wearing the scarf, was in the lobby of the court building watching the live stream of the hearing in a fifth-floor courtroom.
The men stand accused of taking part in riots or unlawful assemblies in the popular district of Mong Kok on February 8 and 9 in 2016.
Security guards then told her to go to the courtroom to take the witness stand. Wong, referred to as “Wong Po Po” or Grandmother Wong by the Chinese press because of her age, asked for a mirror to check what her scarf said.
But Madam Justice Anthea Pang Po-kam rejected the request and said Wong knew very well what words were on her scarf. She then convicted Wong and told her not to speak over her, when Wong expressed difficulty in understanding the allegations.
Prosecutors accuse Hong Kong activist Edward Leung of inciting crowd on first day of Mong Kok riot trial
To the Post outside court, Wong said: “I was not offered any chance to give an explanation.”
She admitted she had been warned on Tuesday for having two mini-banners that said “no mainlandisation of Hong Kong” and “release political prisoners” attached to her backpack.
After the episode, the judge ordered those attending the trial not to display any sorts of political messages in the vicinity of the court.
Wong said she had put away her banners and two yellow wristbands – a colour linked to the pro-democracy camp following the Occupy protests in 2014. She insisted she made sure they were hidden before she turned up at the court on Wednesday.
Also, she added, she wore the same scarf on Tuesday but security guards did not take any issue with her clothing. She said she had spoken to lawyers after being charged for contempt of court.
Wong was previously barred from entering the courtroom on an earlier occasion, after she was heard shouting political slogans when the session was adjourned.
University of Hong Kong legal scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun said that while it was within the High Court’s jurisdiction to punish people for contempt, the present case was “disurbing”.
That power was to ensure that court proceedings could be carried out smoothly, he said, but Wong, who had a right to be present as a member of the public, was already sitting outside the courtroom. He added that she appeared not to have done anything more than wearing the scarf, rather than holding it up or disrupting the hearing.
“The dignity of the court would not be enhanced by an intolerant attitude,” Chan said.
The scholar added that Wong should have been given the right to a fair hearing.
“If she is to be charged with contempt, she has a right to know what has happened, a right to be heard and, if necessary, a right to legal representation,” he said.
“ Apparently none of these has been afforded. A summary offence does not mean that basic procedural fairness can be dispensed with,” Chan explained.
Former HKU constitutional law and human rights professor Michael Davis said finding someone in contempt of court just for wearing a T-shirt with a message of protest outside the court was a bit “extreme”.
He said the court could no doubt expel people for yelling or even holding a protest in many common law jurisdictions, not just Hong Kong. But the present case, he said: “The interest in free expression should outweigh any interest of the court in restricting such light and non-disruptive expression.”