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From the vault: Can protestors break the law for the sake of their cause?

South China Morning Post (

Helen Wong Ling-oi, 13, St Stephen's Girls' College Breaking an unjust law to convey a point has been widely accepted and has brought significant change to society. To say that protesters must not break the law is too inflexible. In fact, some laws are illegitimate. And perhaps breaking the law is the sole effective means to voice one's objection.

In the past, many groups have practised civil disobedience: Mahatma Gandhi's peaceful campaign against British rule brought independence to India; Martin Luther King's civil rights movement opposed racial discrimination.

At times, activists have broken the law to get their message across. For if the protesters' actions do not hinder the business of the state, their voices will hardly be heard. Also problems arise if they choose to use legal channels to air their views: time is the most obvious. To make a change, someone has to become a member of a legislative body, raise concerns and take part in debates. Hong Kong legislator 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung has drawn attention to social issues with his words and deeds - fighting for prisoners' rights to vote and easier access to the old age allowance with less income scrutiny. Raymond Wong Yuk-man once threw a bunch of bananas at Chief Executive Donald Tsang, in protest at plans for a means test of the elderly as part of pension changes. He gained mass public support. Such actions make us focus on social affairs. While arrests for civil disobedience at protests are to be expected, it's the force used that brings attention. Without law-breaking by activists, would Hongkongers be motivated to fight for themselves? Hardly ever.

Yuen Hui-ling, 16, Diocesan Girls' School People protest to grab the authorities' attention; they protest to urge the ruling side to see their cause and their reasoning. But there is a fine line between supporting a cause and going out of control. And breaking the law is definitely on the wrong side of that line.

It is certainly not justifiable to break the law under any circumstances, let alone during protest. Breaking the rules will lead only to chaotic consequences. Laws are there to ensure that everything functions properly. They are a set of rules accepted by society. If protesters upset that balance, won't it create bigger problems?

Furthermore, the government would focus on solving issues raised by the chaos created, instead of the cause the protesters are fighting for; the protest loses its purpose, since the government isn't even paying attention.

Breaking the law could also affect the persuasiveness of the cause. Protests are all about grabbing attention and gaining more supporters. However, if protesters commit illegal acts in aid of their cause, then they would only turn public opinion against them. Using illegal means only shows to the public that one's cause isn't good enough to persuade others, and this is the only way the cause can gain attention. By taking the 'right' path, the protesters would be viewed as the moral authority instead, and potentially gain more support, especially if the government tries to suppress them in any way.

An activist or protester's passion and concern for their cause is understandable and laudable. Yet there are always peaceful, more righteous ways to get your point across.

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