The debate over whether Hong Kong should legislate for “contempt of cop” appears to have gained a new lease on life after the conviction of seven police officers of assault on pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang.
Many, particularly among the so-called “blue-ribbon faction” and police unions, are urging the government to draft new legislation to criminalize any verbal abuse or offensive gesture against police officers.
We believe it is perfectly understandable that police unions have deep sympathy for the seven policemen who were found guilty of committing the offence while in the line of duty.
However, in the meantime, we have serious reservations about the suggestion to introduce such legislation.
Technically speaking, it is difficult to legally define what kind of language or behavior constitutes contempt.
Besides, any attempt to propose such legislation is likely to spark another round of controversy and may further fuel the already heated confrontation between pro-democracy activists and law enforcement.
To make things worse, once legislation come into force, it will raise serious concerns over whether the new laws could be used as a tool for political persecution, and whether it would violate basic civil rights if someone is arrested just because he or she swore at a policeman or gave him the finger.
Even Police Commissioner Lo Wai-chung has expressed concern about the far-reaching implications of such legislation on society.
Since the issue is highly complicated, the authorities must think it through very carefully before taking any further action, he said.
We believe such legislation is not only highly polarizing but also redundant because there are already longstanding and well-established laws in Hong Kong against assault on police. (Editor’s note: currently, Section 63 of the Police Force Ordinance and Section 36(b) of the Offences against the Person Ordinance deal comprehensively with assaults on police officers.)
Any attempt to legislate for “contempt of cop” is both unwise and unnecessary and is likely to further exacerbate conflict in our already deeply divided society.
Moreover, it is questionable whether such a controversial bill could pass Legco at all given the current partisan gridlock and the hostile relationship between the pan-democrats and the administration.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 21
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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