The Honorable Ann Chiang Lai-wan supports the idea of an independent commission of inquiry into the social and political turmoil over the past six months following the introduction of the fugitive-law amendment bill. She is right.
This is not to say that the government’s idea for an independent review committee is not necessary.
My conclusion after considerable soul-searching is that both are important to Hong Kong’s moving ahead.
The former is what the public needs. The latter is what the SAR government needs.
There have just been too many rumors floating around, and the public cannot tell what is fact and what is fiction. This is why we need an independent, authoritative body to find out the truth and put the record straight. Whoever it is — police, rioters, legislators, teachers, civil servants, social workers, students, anyone from any walk of life — if a wrong has been done and that deserves to be brought to a court of law, so be it. If no wrong has been done, then speculation that a wrong has been done can be put to rest.
Over the past few months, these rumors have been the drivers of riots in many locations around Hong Kong, leading to the vandalizing of MTR stations, traffic lights, shops, pavements, etc. One estimate has put the figure of cost to be at least US$2.14 billion, and that does not even include the business opportunities lost and the hours of work lost. Lawlessness is now becoming more acceptable to some people; and the incidence of robberies and common assault is now rising. On top of this, our university graduates and other job seekers are facing a bleak future for employment. Many businesses are under huge pressures. Many have already closed, and many more may close in the coming months.
There have just been too many rumors floating around, and the public cannot tell what is fact and what is fiction. This is why we need an independent, authoritative body to find out the truth and put the record straight
The hard fact that we have to face is: As long as these rumors continue unabated, the unrest is unlikely to subside. This is why we need a credible, authoritative body, to tell us facts from fiction.
The independent commission of inquiry (ICI) should just be responsible for fact-finding, i.e., to inform the public which are lies and which are facts.
The independent review committee should advise the government what it has done wrong and how it can do better in handling matters that are very sensitive and that could trigger fears and emotions.
The Independent Police Complaints Council has a role too. It handles complaints against the police, and as such it should be given the authority to subpoena witnesses and to gain access to key files and documents in order to establish if a particular police officer is guilty or not of a chargeable offense. Presently, it does not have sufficient authority to effectively investigate.
Chiang hopes that the ICI can clear the good name of the police. I hope so too. But we should wait until the ICI has established the facts before drawing any conclusion. I also hope that the ICI can clear the good name of the government and that of those who had supported the extradition law amendment bill. The SAR government has claimed that the “Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (FOO) has made reference to the model treaty promulgated by the United Nations and is in line with the international common practice in respect of human rights and legal procedures. Also, it has balanced the needs of both apprehending fugitive offenders and protecting human rights. With the proposed special surrender arrangements prescribed under the bill by the government, there will only be more instead of fewer requirements for protection of the rights of the subject than under the existing FOO.” The ICI should offer its professional judgment on whether this is true or not.
There was speculation that the bill was introduced as a political “mission” at the behest of Beijing. The ICI should look into government documents to illuminate if the bill was purely an initiative introduced by the SAR government to plug a loophole. The ICI should also establish if Beijing had reneged on its promises, as is often alleged.
It is widely believed that a number of people died on Aug 31 during a police operation at Prince Edward MTR station.
As well, student Chow Tsz-lok fell from the third floor of a parking garage to the second floor. The New York Times says that Chow “could well be the first victim among protesters to die from direct confrontation with the police.”
It was rumored that multiple rapes or indecent assaults against female detainees had taken place in the Sun Uk Ling Holding Centre.
Many say that people in white shirts beat up citizens indiscriminately in Yuen Long on July 21 for no reason, and that the police deliberately ignored such assaults for a long time.
Moreover, it was rumored that police had covered up as protesters and were responsible for many acts of vandalism, including the use of gasoline bombs to destroy properties, with a view to implicate the protesters.
As long as these rumors are taken as facts, social unrest will continue. We need an independent commission of inquiry to dispel the rumors so peace can return.
The author is a senior research fellow at Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute at Lingnan University.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.