HKJA Objects Criminalising Stalking
The Hong Kong Journalists Association objects the government’s proposal to criminalize stalking. It is deeply concerned that this proposal will further erode the already shrinking press freedom in Hong Kong and jeopardise disclosure of malpractices that are of public interest.
When the Law Reform Commission launched consultations on stalking in 1998, HKJA expressed strong reservations and many media organisations also voiced concerns over plans to criminalise stalking. We are of the opinion that current legislations are adequate enough to deal with a number of stalking activities. If the aim of government is to protect particular strata of society which is affected by stalking, the government should be able to cope by amending respective ordinances with a narrowly defined stalking clause. It should desist from any proposal that is unreasonably broad to cover activities that are vaguely defined.
There is always the likelihood of the media following, monitoring and investigating in order to gather information on and about individuals and groups that involve the public's interest. These are accepted practices throughout the free world. But once the proposed anti-stalking law is enacted, such legitimate media activities will be easily stopped by people who do not want their malpractices revealed. Although the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau justified their proposal by stating that media may use “the course of conduct was reasonable” as a defence in court, legitimate press activities would have been obstructed or curtailed long before judicial proceedings are initiated. HKJA is also concerned that the definition of “reasonableness” is too subjective to have certainty in application of law, thus allowing media to be penalized before due process of law. As a result, press freedom will be severely curtailed.
Regrettably the government has not taken into consideration these concerns expressed by HKJA more than a decade ago. Of even more concern is the government's ignoring infringements of press freedom in other countries where similar anti-stalking laws have been enacted. For example, the United Kingdom of Britain enacted the Protection from Harassment Act in 1997 when the administration envisaged that there might be 200 cases annually. As of 2002, there had been 6,000 cases, of which a considerable number have been found to be mere abusive use of the legislation to bar news reporting.
For instance in 2007, freelance photographer, Adrian Arbib, was served with an injunction under the act because the covering of the protest against utility company Npower was an act "without reasonable excuse". In applying the injunction, the utility company claimed to protect their staff from harassment by protesters but the order restricted "those acting in concert with the protesters" not to photograph or video "protected persons or their vehicles". Although some clauses of the law were modified after three months of legal proceedings, the media had lost the chance to cover the protest.
Britain is now examining the Act’s adverse effects on press freedom and other human rights. However, the Hong Kong government is pushing for such legislation just when press freedom is being actively curtailed, as has rightly been pointed out by opinion polls. More worrying is that the ambiguity of the offence may further suffocate press freedom as well as the media's vigilance in safeguarding a core value of Hong Kong.
Furthermore, the quoted example in the UK shows the proposed legislation would be used as a tool to restrict protests organized by social activists or organizations, even sending mass emails to specific email box would be banned in the future. HKJA thus worries that the new legislation will greatly interfere the freedom of expression.
Hong Kong Journalists Association