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Monday, December 09, 2019, 19:10
Urgent need to nail ill-founded rumors and let facts speak
By Ho Lok-sang
Monday, December 09, 2019, 19:10 By Ho Lok-sang

One common question that comes up in recent conversations with different groups is: How can we end this turmoil and unrest that is bedeviling Hong Kong?

I believe clearing things up and letting the facts speak for themselves must be the first step.

I had recommended an independent commission of inquiry to look into all aspects of the current social unrest. In an article in this column in July, I wrote: “The independent commission, to be headed by a credible panel of judges that the public can trust, (should) look into the responsibility of all the different parties that have played a part in this fiasco. These different parties include social media, the media, teachers, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, our political parties, our legislators, our lawyers and especially the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Hong Kong Law Society, the police, clergy, social workers, various NGOs, etc. Above all, the independent commission should look into the role of foreign interests and possible foreign support for the rioters.”

I now accept that an independent inquiry has to wait until the violence has subsided. With violence and protests continuing, all parties that have a stake in this current turmoil will be more interested in furthering their causes than in helping with the inquiry.

Still, it is imperative that rumors that distort facts be dispelled. These rumors are causing fear, anxiety, chaos, and play an important role in driving more fear, anxiety, chaos, and violence. Many protesters have been intentionally misled by some people who want to promote their agenda.

Even though an independent inquiry may not be possible now to clear up every matter of concern, some rumors can and should be dispelled by independent and credible professionals. I am surprised that this is not done.

It is imperative that rumors that distort facts be dispelled. These rumors are causing fear, anxiety, chaos, and play an important role in driving more fear, anxiety, chaos, and violence. Many protesters have been intentionally misled by some people who want to promote their agenda

There are rumors about missing people, killed people, people raped in police custody, and rumors that many of the missing and killed people are related to police brutality. The SAR government needs to unequivocally dispel these rumors with the help of independent auditors.

There are rumors that Beijing has deviated from the Basic Law and has taken away Hong Kong people’s political freedoms that have been promised, and the United States passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in the belief or on the assumption that this is the case. The government needs to confront the US to tell its politicians that this is simply not true. Bypassing the nominating committee as the protesters want is truly undermining the Basic Law and the “one country, two systems” principle. Again, we need authoritative, independent professionals to make this clear to the world.

There are rumors that under the original fugitive law amendment bill, Hong Kong people’s right to freedom of speech will be undermined. According to the narrative in some short videos that circulate widely among the public, even saying “the wrong things” could lead to arrest and extradition to the mainland. Such a narrative needs to be condemned as distorting facts and contributing to public anxiety over the bill.

A recent FactWire report offered a glimpse into the alleged killings of people at the Prince Edward MTR station on Aug 31 during a police operation. FactWire tracked down 47 of the 52 arrested that night, and successfully contacted six people who were rumored missing and suspected of having been killed. FactWire said there are still many unanswered questions, but the report did at least dispel some rumors. It is in the interest of the public that the MTR release all its video recordings that evening to an independent auditor, which will then release its findings.

There was also the case of the young woman whose right eye was alleged to have been blinded by a beanbag shot by the police. So far, the medical report is not available to throw light on how she was injured. Still, multiple protests had been held against presumed police brutality that was blamed for her injury. To me, in this case, public interest certainly outweighs privacy. Accordingly, an application should be made to the court to request the medical report. If it was indeed the police who caused the injury, the police can review its conduct during the night of the incident. If it had nothing to do with the police, the good name of the police can be restored.

With the anxiety of the public over the effects of tear gas on health, I welcome the recent statement from the Environmental Protection Department to the effect that it has not found any anomalies in the levels of particulate matter in areas where tear gas had been fired since June. I am particularly impressed that a news report I read on this was accompanied by Chinese University scientist Chan King-ming’s testimony that there is no evidence suggesting tear gas will release dioxins in the air.

With weakened trust in the SAR government, it is important that authoritative third party dismissal of rumors be publicized more often in the media: TV, radio, newspaper, online media, as well as social media. More transparency is a first step to rebuilding trust.

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. 

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