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Legco copyright protest: 600 police spent quiet day in Tamar Park, outnumbering protesters

Legco copyright protest: 600 police spent quiet day in Tamar Park, outnumbering protesters

Originally published at the South China Morning Post on December 16, 2015.

By Clifford Lo, Vivienne Chow, Stuart Lau and Jessie Lau

The story in brief:

  • Police find 1kg of explosive ingredient on man walking towards rally
  • About 300 protesters attended the Legislative Council demonstration area
  • Inside Legco, the Copyright Amendment Bill’s second reading speech was blocked again with an organised filibuster
  • Protesters have said they will reappear at the Tamar Park complex again on Thursday from 4pm if the bill is debated again
  • 600 police outnumbered the protesters two to one, but mostly at a higher ratio

Pan-democrats have called for a quorum more than 10 times, using measures to delay the passage of amendments to copyright in Hong Kong.

The filibustering looks to have successfully stopped the bill’s passage as the Legislative Council is due to rise at 8pm and the discussion has not occurred.

In preparations for today’s protest outside the Tamar Park complex, about 600 police officers, said to have been drawn from the elite tactical unit were deployed outside Legco as opponents of the controversial copyright bill prepared to rally in protest.

But the protest has also been slow to start, with just a handful of protesters from both sides attending the event. Organisers expected up to 10,000 but have revised their figure down to 1,000.

Protest starts at 7pm

As protesters vowed to return to the Tamar Park complex on Thursday at 4pm if the Legco continues to debate the copyright bill, the gathered crowd has become feisty.

About 300 people have turned out to hear from lawmakers on both sides of the debate.

Chaos broke out as the Democratic Party’s Emily Lau and Wong Pik-wan were mobbed by the angry crowd.

Protestors accused the Democratic Party of betraying the interests of the public when it did not participate in the copyright bill filibuster.

Wong Yuk-man, lawmaker from radical group People’s Power, said with the delay in Legco today, he expected the legislators would not get to vote on the bill until the end of January.

Calvin Wong, 23, a sociology masters student who has returned from the UK, said the government has failed to convince him to believe that the copyright bill is trustworthy.

He said there is still ambiguity in the current bill and as a responsible government, such a bill should not be passed unless it has been clarified.

“It is also against the global development of creativity, which emphasises collective creations rather than individual creations. But this new law simply makes people afraid of producing derivative works,” said Wong.

Police presence

Police preparation is tight, not just to prevent possible clashes between groups for and against the bill, but also after an explosion in a rubbish bin in an area for protesters outside the Legco building a week ago highlighted security gaps.

A police source told the Post that most of the officers were from an elite tactical unit and were “on standby around the complex and the government headquarters”. The source added that 10 of the officers would be in the demonstration area.

Officers were also positioned by Admiralty MTR station, on the bridge connecting Admiralty Centre and Tamar, as well as on Tim Mei Avenue, with at least four police vehicles stationed near Fenwick Pier, opposite Legco.

The source said the police force would monitor the situation closely, and would only step in upon Legco’s request.

Tensions ran high after a group of protesters suspected to be linked to last week’s blast outside the chamber has been identified by police after poring over security camera footage, the Post learned.

Filibuster planned ahead

This came ahead of today’s rally against the controversial copyright bill as a radical pan-democratic lawmaker has vowed to adjourn the bill, a move that Liberal Party’s James Tien Pei-chun said the party would support.

The Federation of Trade Unions, another pro-government party, said it would discuss what to do today, fuelling uncertainty to the political showdown at Legco’s second reading of the bill that has been dubbed “Internet Article 23”.

Force insiders said initial investigations showed they belonged to a local radical group who went online to call on people to take part in a rally against the second reading of the copyright bill originally scheduled last Wednesday.

The meeting, however, was adjourned as too few lawmakers were at the meeting and the rally organised by concern group Keyboard Frontline was cancelled. The blast happened at about 8.30pm.

The second reading of the bill is expected to be resumed today and the protest will take place from 4pm onwards.

The group that had been identified called themselves “black bloc” members because they wore black clothing, sunglasses and face masks to conceal their identities, one source with knowledge of the investigation said.

A photo depicting an image of “black bloc” was posted by radical group Hong Kong Indigenous last Tuesday ahead of the protest. The group called on supporters to follow suit.

Police refused to comment if the group identified was Hong Kong Indigenous.

“They are anti-government protesters. It seemed they wanted to cause a mess in Hong Kong,” said one source. It is understood the gang consisted of more than 10 locals.

The source said police had identified some members of the gangs, adding that “arresting them is just a matter of time.”

In light of last week’s blast, Keyboard Frontline said it will step up its safety measures for today’s protest.

“We hope to have around 100 volunteers as marshals,” Craig Choy, legal counsel for Keyboard Frontline, told the Post. “But we only have limited manpower so we urge participants to pay attention to anything suspicious. Safety is our priority.”

Choy said Keyboard Frontline had little contact with Hong Kong Indigenous and was not aware of their plans.

Keyboard Frontline and other concern groups including Youngspiration have seized the extra week to lobby pro-establishment lawmakers as well as citizens to back their opposition to the bill.

Expanded scope

The Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014 expands the scope of copyright infringement and proposed criminal sanctions against digital piracy. The government has been under fire for the dated Hong Kong copyright law.

Speaking to the Post, Bar Association chairwoman Winnie Tam Wan-chi said it was wrong for pan-democrats to say the US approach of fair use would offer wider protection than the fair dealing, because US case law shows that two of the exceptions the local government agreed - satire and commenting on current affairs — are prone not to be regarded as fair use.

Tam added that fair use is not regarded in the US as workable together with the concept of contract override, another exemption raised by pan-democrats.

“Hong Kong has the widest fair-dealing exceptions anywhere in the world,” Tam, an intellectual property lawyer, said.

By asking officials to adopt certain overseas exemptions, pan-democrats were “cherry-picking” without due consideration to the other aspects of those legal systems, said Tam.

Even where is more than de minimis, copyright owners would have no incentive nor reason to sue on normal harmless acts because there is nothing to recover and all the legal costs to lose, Tam said.

Internet users, though, fear the loss of freedom of expression, saying the government’s proposed exceptions – which also included parody, caricature, pastiche, reporting current affairs and quotation – do not provide sufficient leeway.

The government has been attempting to convince the public that the bill is safe and not an attempt to take freedom of speech away.

The views among stakeholders are still divided. Industry associations supported the bill but celebrated figures from the cultural and creative industries opposed the bill.

Additional reporting by Christy Leung and Jeffie Lam

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