Date
18 November 2017
A protest against mainland tourists in Canton Road in February (left) promoted a visitor (right) to fight back by taking pictures and offering them as evidence of the discrimination in Hong Kong. Photo: Passion Times HK
A protest against mainland tourists in Canton Road in February (left) promoted a visitor (right) to fight back by taking pictures and offering them as evidence of the discrimination in Hong Kong. Photo: Passion Times HK

Discrimination Law review sparks hope — and anxiety

Hong Kong’s anti-discrimination law could be amended to protect mainlanders as well as locals from abuse, with offensive words and descriptions such as “locusts”, “Hong Kong pigs” and “dogs of Britain” likely to be curbed under the revised law. 

The Equal Opportunities Commission has launched a three-month public consultation on review of the Discrimination Law that may result in additional provisions to protect people from discrimination, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported Wednesday.

The amendments were suggested in response to rising conflicts between local people and mainland Chinese in recent years, the report said, citing the commission’s chairman York Chow Yat-ngok. 

Chow stressed that the thresholds to establish an accusation under the revised discrimination law will be high and that people’s general freedom of speech will not be at risk.

Would calling mainlanders ‘locusts’ be an offense then? It would depend on specific situations and circumstances, said Chow, noting that the complainant would be required to prove that the accused had acted maliciously and incited serious hatred.

What about posting comments or reinventing graphics targeting mainlanders? Would it constitute a form of discrimination? According to Chow, insulting language should not exist.

The law review has given rise to some concerns among the retail, tourism and food and beverage sectors, where front-line workers have to deal with a large amount of visitors. Observers are worried about vague definitions of discrimination, a topic that is also part of the consultation in the review exercise.

Some Chinese visitors, meanwhile, feel the new rules could exacerbate conflicts between Hong Kong people and mainlanders. A mainland female tourist, surnamed Lian, was quoted as saying that the proposed law may push mainlanders and Hongkongers into opposite positions. Tourists may also wonder whether the dissatisfaction toward mainlanders in the city is so serious that a law needs to be established.

Another tourist surnamed Qi from Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, said it is more important for people from both sides to enhance relationships and communication.

‘Anti-locusts’

Over the last few years, tensions between Hongkongers and mainland Chinese have been rising as locals complain, among other things, that public areas in the city are getting crowded with mainland tourists. Mainlanders have often been dubbed “locusts” for “infesting” the city, while some visitors have described locals as “Hong Kong pigs”.

Hong Kong netizens have uploaded video clips of the rude behavior of mainlanders onto the internet in recent months and initiated “anti-locusts” protests at some key tourism sites. 

Ronald Leung, an organizer of several such protests, fears the revised law could restrict the freedom of expression. Leung said he will initiate other protests if the word “locusts” is defined as discrimination.

Eric Cheung Tat Ming, principal lecturer and director of Clinical Legal Education at Hong Kong University, said legislators should be extremely careful and strike the proper balance between anti-discrimination and freedom of speech. If the law was passed, the priority given to local mothers to buy baby formula may also be a kind of discrimination, Cheung said, adding that it’s better to improve the public education about related issues rather than write it in legal clauses.

Consultation

The consultation paper cited a survey by the University of Hong Kong last year which said that about 25 percent immigrants have faced unfair treatment or rejection in securing services in the city. Staff from the Society for Community Organization, which helps immigrants adapt to new life in the city, said they receive discrimination complaints from new immigrants almost every day.

Some new immigrants said they welcome the review, saying they have been discriminated even when they were shopping for food in wet markets.

The existing race law has dealt with discriminatory issues arising from different ethnic groups, skin color and ancestors. The proposed amendments will also take into consideration the nationalities and citizenship identities.

A homeowner who refuses to lease an apartment to certain ethnic person might be violating the Discrimination Law. Companies that reject job applicants due to racial reasons will also be punished. 

Last December, the Court of Final Appeal declared that the requirement that new immigrants should be in Hong Kong for seven years before being allowed to receive the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance was in violation of the Basic Law. Until recently, about 5,500 new immigrants who have stayed in the city for between one and seven years have applied for the social benefits.

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VW/JP/RC

Freelance journalist

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