Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
The 2014 Hong Kong Occupy movement continues to ripple through our political landscape. Hong Kong remains as polarised as ever following the fateful events of autumn 2014. Last week saw three men (not children as some would believe) sentenced to jail for their part in the violence. Let us be clear, despite the false narrative conveyed in some media, Occupy was a violent movement.
Some have sought to portray the 79-day occupation as a Boy Scout jamboree. The orderly tents, the litter collection plus the self-policing. These all existed for a brief period, but soon evaporated as the disparate groups argued amongst themselves. Then the violence started. For a full account read my earlier post.
The three convicted men led an attempt to storm government headquarters. What followed was assaults on security guards with property damaged in the process. A magistrate gave them community service orders for their actions. Next the Justice Department sought a review of sentencing with the Court of Appeal. This is both legitimate and warranted in view of the importance of the case. In all regards, due process was followed.
It is now bizarre to hear heckles raised by overseas politicians, human right groups and media outlets. These people frequently lecture us about judicial independence. The rule of law is paramount. And here with have them, without any shame, demanding the government overturn a court decision. Hypocrisy doesn’t begin to describe their stance.
Both the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Law Society have felt it necessary to issue a statement. They assert the judgement was taken without interference. The Law Society president went so far to say “These allegations were obviously not supported by facts. Unfounded comments that judicial decisions we're made or influenced by political considerations are unjustified”.
It’s important to stress that Hong Kong Court’s operate a common law system that is independent of the state. Moreover, most of the magistrates and judges had their tutelage under the British system. Even today, twenty years after the handover, judges fiercely defend their position of independence. Courts have demonstrated this time and time again. Thus, it is unacceptable to hear voices of criticism from other jurisdictions. Such comments are an insult to the judges, plus a direct and unwarranted attack on our judicial system.
It has to be said that many of those making the accusations are either ignorant or driven by an agenda that ignores the facts. Either-way these idle comments do damage.
The case against Joshua WONG, Nathan LAW and Alex CHOW was clear cut. Between them they instigated an unlawful assembly. Next they encouraged others to engage in violent conduct that caused injuries to 10 security guards. These facts are not disputed.
Now, granted their motivation may be laudable. They sought a more democratic system. This is something we all aspire to achieve. Unfortunately there are no easy solutions to this issue. A long history dominates any discussions, whilst wider concerns of China’s stability impinge on the matter. It’s inescapable that the convicted men sought to use violence to further their aims. In this they are no different from terrorists.
Their motivation does not excuse their actions. The judgment stated … “There can be no excuse for those committing unlawful acts in the name of exercising those very freedoms they claim they are fighting for. Pursuing what activists think are noble ideals is not a free pass for undermining social order and public safety”. These are fine words that capture the sentiment of many in Hong Kong. Whilst there exists a degree of sympathy, the methods adopted must be rejected.
Some of the blame for this situation must rest with the elders of Hong Kong’s democratic movement. Happy to see these young people taking to the streets, they failed to provide wise counsel. In many ways they gave tacit encouragement for violent action as this brought pressure to the government. It’s certain they provided direct logistical support once Occupy started. Office space in the LegCo building turned into bunk rooms and feeding stations. Claudia MO, a legislator, is alleged to have used government funds to buy tents that were used by the occupiers. Meanwhile, funds from dubious sources got funneled to the students and others. Some came from overseas sources with an anti-China agenda. This made Occupy part of a greater game. More layers, more complications.
The reaction from overseas to the sentencing of the three men must be seen in that context. US politicians, in particular, seek to undermine China. This story provides them a simple message to sell. Mentioning the violence and a British based legal system is not something they are keen to include. Especially when most of their constituents couldn't find Hong Kong on a map. As we well understand, the US electorate are not comfortable with details or complexities.
By seeing matters through the prism of a clash between the West and China, these interlocutors do Hong Kong a profound disservice. Relying on imperfect sources of information obscures the truth of events. The US media is laughingly conflating the Howard LAM saga with this case. That LAM is under arrest for making a false report of abduction is left out of the media coverage. An inconvenient truth perhaps?
It’s an easy narrative to sell: Hong Kong under China’s thumb. Yet it's possible to argue that the biggest existential threat to Hong Kong comes from the West. Those who fail to understand the complexities of events are blind. The immediate effect of this current episode is to undermine our judicial system. Long-term, the false understanding leads to incorrect judgements that impact policy. Outsiders owe us the decency of understanding the full facts before making comments. I think that’s fair.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.