Sat, Aug 26, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Rule of law requires a democracy

By Ivan Ho 何明修

Later generations will remember last week as the darkest hour of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

Two decades after sovereignty over Hong Kong was transferred from Britain to China and less than two months into Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s (林鄭月娥) tenure, her government has already succeeded in upgrading non-custodial sentences, handed out in two separate cases, to prison sentences through an appeal to Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal.

Hong Kong’s once independent judiciary has been reduced to a tool that can be used by Beijing to crack down on dissidents.

The two prosecutions concern two social movements that occurred in 2014. The first case relates to demonstrations against a development project in the region’s northeast New Territories in June of that year. The second concerns a sit-in at a public square that took place several months later in September — the precursor to the “Umbrella movement.”

On Tuesday last week, 13 protesters who stormed the Hong Kong Legislative Council during demonstrations against the New Territories development proposal were one after the other sentenced to between eight and 13 months in jail.

Then on Thursday, three young leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement — Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), Alex Chow (周永康) and Nathan Law (羅冠聰) — were sentenced to six to eight months in prison for unlawful assembly.

The government’s severe punishment of members of the public who hold dissenting views should have been entirely predictable given recent developments.

The so-called “fishball revolution,” which erupted just over one year ago when police attempted to clear unlicensed food stalls in Hong Kong’s Mongkok District, ended with several protesters sentenced to three years in prison.

Four legislators who modified their oaths of allegiance to China during a swearing-in ceremony in October last year were last month disqualified and barred from taking their seats in the Legislative Council.

Taken together with two other pro-independence lawmakers who were also disqualified from the council last year — Sixtus “Baggio” Leung (梁頌恆) and Yau Wai-ching (游蕙禎) — nearly one-10th of the 70 lawmakers who make up the council have had their legislative careers terminated, without cause, by members of Hong Kong’s judiciary.

Yet, there are still more legislators who, despite being democratically elected by their constituents, will have to defend their eligibility to stand for office. Moreover, the leaders of the “Umbrella movement” and the “fishball revolution” might face additional punitive actions.

When Britain returned Hong Kong to China, many believed that the rule of law concept handed down by their former colonial rulers would help to maintain Hong Kong’s freedoms and liberties. Twenty years later, Hong Kong residents continue to abide by the law and respect the judiciary.

If such an outrageous verdict had been handed down by a Taiwanese judge, there would have been a public outcry over “judicial persecution,” yet in Hong Kong the public has labeled it “a disgraceful act of political oppression,” because they hold the Hong Kong Department of Justice responsible for persevering with the appeals — not the judges.

In daily life, Hong Kongers respect traffic rules far more than Taiwanese do. They do not view traffic lights as merely advisory; they always stop at red lights. Even during street protests, Hong Kong demonstrators do not transgress beyond cordons or blockades erected by the police.

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