Elderly cardboard seller, arrested for making 17 cents, gets all-clear in Hong Kong

File photo of an elderly woman pushing a trolley load of cardboard for recycling through a market in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong.
File photo of an elderly woman pushing a trolley load of cardboard for recycling through a market in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Hong Kong authorities have dropped charges against a 75-year-old woman for selling cardboard without a hawker licence, reported South China Morning Post.

The decision came after a public outcry over her arrest.

The woman, surnamed Chu, sold a piece of cardboard she collected to a domestic helper for HK$1 (17 Singapore cents) in Central on June 11. She was approached by six officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and later charged.

She was also taken to the department office and the police station.

Chu said she was released on bail for HK$30, which left her with only HK$34 in her purse.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said on Monday (June 19) it had decided to withdraw the charges after consulting the Department of Justice and considering the woman's background.

Activists have denounced the department's officers for what they described as "merciless behaviour". On Sunday, about 30 people staged a protest while a petition against the arrest has gathered over 15,000 signatures.

Lawmaker Eddie Chu, who joined the protest on Sunday, said many elderly people have been trying to make a living by collecting recyclable items such as cardboards. He criticised the government, saying it was not doing enough to help the poor.

Chu welcomed the news. "I was really happy after the phone call," she was quoted as saying by South China Morning Post.

But she said she would continue to sell cardboard boxes for a living, which allows her to earn HK$300 to HK$500 per month.

She also rejected offers of financial support. "I'm afraid to receive help," she said. "I wanted to do it on my own."

Chu, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and gastritis, has been quite ill. Now that she "felt at ease", she said she intends to see a doctor.

Food and Health minister, Dr Ko Wing Man, said the bureau would work with the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department to review the enforcement system.

Last year, the department sparked anger for fining a 71-year-old cleaner HK$1,500 for dumping water on a street in Wan Chai. Photos of the woman sobbing after the incident were circulated online, and the authorities later withdrew the fine.