Tony Kwok says Chris Patten is wrong in saying the six-year prison term is too severe because it reflects the very serious nature of offenses committed
It is always sad to see a well-educated young man sentenced to prison, and I am sure many Hong Kong citizens share this sentiment after learning about the sentencing on Monday of Edward Leung Tin-kei. Leung received six years imprisonment for his part in the Mong Kok riots on Feb 8-9, 2016. However, we should not be fooled by opposition politicians who tried to hail Edward Leung as a hero for Hong Kong and a victim of persecution for championing democracy. Their sole intention is hopefully to recruit more “Edward Leungs” to do their dirty work, while they shamelessly avoid any prosecutorial risks and take credit for the so-called democracy movement.
It is interesting to note that former governor Chris Patten wasted no time in criticizing the conviction and sentence which only suggests his close relationship with the local opposition. Patten claimed that Leung was convicted of rioting under the Public Order Ordinance which defines a “riot” as an “unlawful assembly” leading to “breach of the peace”, but both terms are vague. He claimed that “the legislation is now being used politically to place extreme sentences on the ‘pan-democrats’ and other activists.”
Patten’s remarks really are ludicrous. No matter how “riot” is defined in any legislation in any part of the world, everyone can see that what happened in the early hours of Feb 8-9, 2016 in Mong Kok was definitely a riot. There was a mob of over 500 aggressive (mostly young) people setting fires on the street and throwing bricks, wooden crates and rubbish bins at unarmed police officers. This resulted in injuries to some 90 police officers. Most rioters wore masks and had protective shields. This showed that they were well organized and prepared for action. Leung himself admitted to physically assaulting a police sergeant by kicking and hitting him with a wooden board during the riot. Patten should know better. There were 14 riots in the United Kingdom since 1990, and I am sure he publicly condemned many of these. So how can he justify his criticism of Leung’s sentence — unless he has an ulterior motive. Madam Justice Anthea Pang Po-kam clearly pointed out her reason for the heavy sentence. She explained that Leung was involved in “organized violence” that was “extremely serious”. Therefore, the court could not allow people resorting to violence in the name of pursuing social and political causes.
Actually Leung should consider himself lucky that the jury failed to convict him for “inciting a riot”. During his defense, he appeared to lay the blame on close ally Wong Toi-yeung. This hardly vindicates his claim to be a man of conviction. However, if this is the case, then the principal offender in the riot is Wong — who has absconded. If Wong stands trial with the others, he will most probably be convicted of inciting a riot and receive a prison term of 8-10 years.
So the big question now is who let the principal offender escape justice? It should be remembered that after the riot, police arrested Leung and the others. Wong learned of this and hid at a friend’s home. When police eventually raided his friend’s home, he refused to open the door; police had to break in. They found large amounts of cash and suspected there were also bomb-making materials present. When he was brought to court, the prosecution, which was represented by the deputy public prosecutor, objected to bail on the grounds that he was likely to abscond. The application was clearly totally justified in the circumstances. However, the magistrate chose to allow him bail, and subsequently even allowed him to leave Hong Kong on the pretext of attending a conference. This therefore provided Wong with an excellent opportunity to escape justice.
It is interesting to compare the different approaches to the question of bail in different jurisdictions. For example, take the case of Patrick Ho Chi-ping, former secretary for home affairs, who was charged with bribery in New York. Despite putting up a huge sum for surety, Ho’s applications for bail were repeatedly rejected. Ho has now been remanded in custody until his trial. Reference to UK statistics shows that 70 percent of defendants in riot cases are refused bail. However, in regard to Hong Kong’s current riot trials, all defendants were allowed bail; so far three defendants have absconded.
Perhaps Hong Kong should consider having a public accountability system for judges, in line with international standards in the UK, United States, Canada and Australia. Recently, US judge Aaron Persky was voted out of office in California because the local Court Watch revealed he had a pattern of excessive leniency in cases involving offenses done to women. The worst case was when he sentenced a rapist to only 6 months imprisonment. This sparked a public outcry and led him to be voted out of office.
In the meantime, police should make maximum efforts to locate Wong and extradite him. He should be on Interpol red notice which is an alert to all countries to find and arrest him. The current president of Interpol is Meng Hongwei, a Chinese national and former vice-minister of public security. Therefore, active cooperation should be forthcoming. Consideration should also be given to publicizing a huge reward for information leading to his arrest. The message from now on should be clear: Pursuing democracy is fine but it should be conducted lawfully; there will now be zero tolerance for any violence committed even in the pursuit of such high-minded ideals.
The author is an adjunct professor of HKU SPACE and council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies. He is a former deputy commissioner of ICAC and is currently an international anti-corruption consultant.