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Published: 19:53, November 16, 2023 | Updated: 09:34, November 17, 2023
Overseas bishops need to understand facts behind 2019 insurrection and need for NSL
By Tony Kwok
Published:19:53, November 16, 2023 Updated:09:34, November 17, 2023 By Tony Kwok

As a Catholic, I have a lot of respect for bishops, but was astonished by a recent petition from 10 overseas Catholic bishops calling for the immediate release of convicted Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying from jail. While they may be genuinely concerned with human rights, they are more likely to have been misled by the Western mainstream media’s constant bashing of Hong Kong and certain subversive elements within the Hong Kong Catholic community. I cannot help but wonder how much a bishop from Nigeria knows about the tumultuous ordeals the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region went through in the last few years. 

With over 60 years as a Catholic, 27 years as a law enforcement officer with the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and 20 years as an international anticorruption consultant working in 26 countries, and the recipient of a lifelong achievement award in 2022 by the US-based International Association of Certified Fraud Investigators, I believe I am sufficiently qualified to enlighten these bishops on the facts surrounding Lai’s trial and the national security problem in Hong Kong.

In their petition, the clerics claimed that Lai was  “persecuted for supporting pro-democracy causes and that there is no place for cruelty and oppression in a territory that upholds the rule of law and respects freedom of expression”. However, they may not be fully aware of the extent of the  “cruelty”, violence, and destruction caused by the rioters during the 2019 insurrection in Hong Kong, which was among the most violent social unrests in the city’s history. It paralyzed the city for over nine months, causing extensive damage to public and private property and numerous injuries to innocent people. While the Western mainstream media often described it as a  “pro-democracy movement”, this contrasted with what the respected former Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal judge, Henry Litton, accurately described: “What Hong Kong faced at that time was an insurgency, the overthrow of the government, nothing less!”

Lai is now facing trial on charges of sedition for using his now-defunct Apple Daily to incite public hatred against the SAR government, leading to these anti-government riots. This charge is similar to those faced by offenders involved in the US Capitol Hill riots in January 2021, where the mastermind, the head of the Proud Boys, was subsequently sentenced to 22 years imprisonment. I am not aware of any Catholic leaders in the US or elsewhere making a petition for his release. The unrest in Hong Kong was far more violent and extensive and deserves an even more rigorous deterrent sentence for its ringleaders. So, what justifies the clerics’ clemency petition for Lai? Indeed, by any international standard, sedition is not the type of criminal offense that can ever be pardoned.

The Catholic clerics are also likely influenced by the Western media’s portrayal of the National Security Law for Hong Kong (NSL) as a draconian law imposed by the Chinese central government to curtail human rights and freedom of expression in Hong Kong. However, they may need to learn that the HKSAR did not have comprehensive national security legislation following its return to China in 1997. This legal vacuum made Hong Kong vulnerable to infiltration and subversion by Western intelligence agencies, which used it to develop a subversive base against China and the SAR government, with the assistance of certain local media operatives and radical activists and politicians. The absence of national security laws directly contributed to the 2019 violent social unrest in Hong Kong.

Regarding Lai, it is essential to note that he is not a devout Catholic, as he might want people to think

Thus, when the insurrectionist riots escalated in Hong Kong, instigated by Western powers as part of a worldwide “color revolution” at the time, the HKSAR government and the police force faced tremendous challenges in responding effectively without appropriate legislative validation. Consequently, the central government had no choice but to intervene and enact the NSL, swiftly restoring peace and order in the city and ending the violence that had paralyzed the local legislature and disrupted people’s lives for months. If the clerics were to have visited Hong Kong and witnessed the chaotic situation at the time, they would undoubtedly have been persuaded of the need for the NSL and rejoiced at its immediate positive impact. 

Since the promulgation of the NSL in June 2020, only 260 individuals have been arrested for alleged violations, primarily local subversive elements or members of secret pro-independence groups involved in terrorism and plots to disturb the peace in Hong Kong. This number is small relative to Hong Kong’s population of 7.4 million and the tens of thousands of rioters involved in the 2019 unrest. It is indicative that only a tiny fraction of people in Hong Kong are affected by the NSL, while the majority are content with the restored peace and prosperity in the city.

Criticism of new laws governing law and order is commonplace because, in free societies, individuals prioritize their freedoms over the need for national security and public order. Therefore, it is easy for the Western media to criticize the NSL for supposedly sacrificing Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms without considering the need for “insurance” to institute their national security laws. What the bishops should do is to make a comparison of the NSL for Hong Kong with those in their own countries before making any unfounded criticism.

The West often criticizes human rights in Hong Kong without addressing the comparable issues in their own countries. Recent reports from UN human rights experts have highlighted practices in US prisons that are an  “affront to human dignity”, including systemic racism and contemporary forms of slavery. The use of torture by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for national security crimes is well-documented, as acknowledged by the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s report from 2014 on the CIA’s use of torture in the US’ vendetta following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US. If the clerics are genuinely concerned with human rights, they should prioritize petitioning the US government over its countless human rights abuses.

Regarding Lai, it is essential to note that he is not a devout Catholic, as he might want people to think. He dedicated one full page of his Apple Daily newspaper every day to prostitution, featuring explicit photos that cater to base instincts, and another full page to horse racing and betting tips to encourage gambling.

Lai’s trial at the High Court is scheduled for Dec 18, and it would be informative for the clerics to listen to the prosecution’s opening address, which will detail the evidence against Lai for the sedition charge. They may regret publishing this open petition once acquainted with the trial proceedings and evidence.

The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space and an international anticorruption consultant. He retired from the HKSAR government as a deputy commissioner of HK ICAC.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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