On April 1st, it came as no surprise that the court announced its guilty verdict on all the defendants, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, Democratic Party founder Martin Lee Chu-ming, Labour Party Vice-Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan, barrister Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, and others for organizing and participating in an unauthorized procession on August 18, 2019, after a trial at which extensive media coverage of the defendants’ high-profile participation in the march was shown.
On the following day, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK)’s Morning News carried the full statements from the US State Department, the White House spokesman, the European Union and the United Kingdom Foreign Office condemning the verdict as a suppression of freedom of assembly and criticized the trial as a political persecution of democracy, which was followed by another two announcements of condemnation from the office of Taiwan’s leader and its Mainland liaison office! All that took five minutes of airtime! Sadly, not a single word was said about the reasons for their conviction. Unfortunately, such twisted reporting has become standard practice of RTHK, thus affirming that nothing has changed despite the passing of the National Security Law for Hong Kong. RTHK continues to be the mouthpiece of the Western and Taiwan opposition forces whether intentionally or unknowingly!
If RTHK really believed in fair reporting, it would have gone through the 89 pages of the verdict decision by District Court Judge Amanda Woodcock, which highlighted the fact that the assembly within Victoria Park was allowed, thus there was no restriction on the freedom of expression. It clearly clarified that only the public procession from Victoria Park to Central was disallowed out of concerns for public safety. This was at a time when the city was embroiled in street violence and property destruction arising from protest marches. It is noteworthy that the police decision was upheld by the Independent Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Procession. All the defendants knew full well the illegality of the procession and yet they incited the public to join them in breaking the law. As the judge commented, “It would give the law no teeth and make a mockery of the law to assume there would be no liability for illegal assembly even if there were no violence involved.” The conviction is based on rock-solid legal basis and common sense.
There is nothing more hypocritical than the UK coming out to condemn the prosecution of illegal assembly as it is now in the process of amending its own public procession law, “The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill”. The Bill empowers police to impose more conditions and restrictions, including on the routes of marches, the level of noise allowed, etc. It creates a new offense of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”. Under the Bill, police can stop people occupying public spaces, hanging off bridges, etc.
The West’s accusation that the defendants were prosecuted politically and unfairly failed to note one important fact. There are two other defendants in the trial, both seasoned legislators, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, who had no problem pleading guilty earlier to the charge of participating in an illegal assembly. It would be preposterous to think that the two seasoned politicians could be pressured into pleading guilty if they believed they had committed no wrong.
It is ironic that in a separate trial shortly after this one, Jimmy Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan, and former Democratic Party Chairman Yeung Sum also pleaded guilty to participating in another illegal assembly in Wan Chai on Aug 31, 2019. Would the Western powers now be going to issue another statement of condemnation over their voluntary guilty pleas?
There is nothing more hypocritical than the UK coming out to condemn the prosecution of illegal assembly as it is now in the process of amending its own public procession law, “The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill”. The Bill empowers police to impose more conditions and restrictions, including on the routes of marches, the level of noise allowed, etc. It creates a new offense of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”. Under the Bill, police can stop people occupying public spaces, hanging off bridges, etc. The bill was deemed necessary because the Metropolitan Police were frustrated that they could not do more to lessen the impact of Extinction Rebellion demonstrations in 2019 when mass occupation of roads and bridges in London stretched the police resources to the breaking point. In arguing for the Bill, the Home Office stated that the right to protest and express yourself are not absolute, just as it is in Hong Kong! Protests can be limited by police to ensure public safety, or to prevent crime. So how on Earth can the UK Foreign Office condemn Hong Kong’s lawful prosecution of this group for such a blatant disregard of the illegal assembly law, which is a vestige of the British colonial rule in Hong Kong!
The UK Bill has led to violent public protests in nearly all major cities in the UK, resulting in numerous arrests, damage to public property, and injuries to many protesters, innocent citizens and police.
One major Western media outlet commenting on the conviction asks rhetorically that if Martin Lee, the 82-year-old “father of democracy”, can face years in jail, then no one is safe in Hong Kong! I would like to ask this media outlet, does it mean that he, who is a senior barrister and knows the law more than most people, should be above the law, or should he be more severely punished instead for setting a bad example?
The older Hongkongers will remember in the British Colonial days when the Police Special Branch was watching everybody, and public processions of the scale common since the Handover were simply unthinkable. The organizers would most likely be locked up in secret detention centers, possibly the White House in Mount Davies, without trial for months. It is good that the HKSAR government has retained this structure, converted it into a branch of the University of Chicago, so people can be reminded of the dark history of the British colonial rule. As former chief ecutive Leung Chun-ying had aptly ridiculed the UK on his Facebook account, “Don’t do as I do in my country, don’t do as I did in your country, just do as I say!”
The most absurd criticism is that the judge was alleged to be under pressure from Beijing to convict these opposition leaders! The Hong Kong judiciary is world renowned for its professionalism and independence. According to the latest available Judicial Independence Ranking of the World Economic Forum, Hong Kong is ranked 13 with a near top score of 6.1 out of the maximum of 7, whereas the US is ranked far behind at 25 with a poor score of 5.5. And yet it has the temerity to criticize the Hong Kong Judiciary! Such sanctimonious arrogance is nothing but contempt of court and it only reflects the absurd hypocrisy and blatant double standards of some Western powers.
The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space and a council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS