A two-year immediate custodial term versus five weeks in jail plus release on bail.
The yawning difference between Hong Kong judges’ sentencing for the seven policemen who beat up pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang in 2014 and the punishment the judges gave to Tsang himself for assaulting and resisting police during the same Occupy event has caused much consternation among mainlanders after news of the verdicts spread quickly across the border.
“Offender was let go lightly but police officers, who went through 79 days of ordeal and travail during the illegal Occupy protests, got long custodial sentence and were immediately sent to a remand prison … Justice not upheld in the ruling,” a People’s Daily editor lamented in a social media account managed by the party mouthpiece.
The Hong Kong judge who delivered the ruling on the police officers, David Dufton, said in the court last week that “the defendants have not only brought dishonor to the Hong Kong Police Force, they have also damaged Hong Kong’s reputation in the international community” and that “every police officer has a duty to prevent the commission of a crime, even by fellow police officers”.
Dufton noted that the cops’ offence — assault occasioning actual bodily harm – was severe and that two-and-a-half years would be the starting point for sentencing. However, given the officers’ long service in the police and their physical and mental pressure when handling Occupy protests, a discount of six months was warranted in the jail term, he said.
Following the verdict, the British-born judge has become one of the most hated persons among mainland netizens, with many labeling his ruling as being “prejudiced, unfair and unjust”.
The People’s Daily editor went on to take potshots at the Hong Kong judiciary, for “the preponderance of a bunch of Britons and Britain-trained judges”.
He also pointed out how the Hong Kong picture contrasted starkly with that in the United States when there were allegations of brutality against police officers.
In the US, very few officers have been jailed for manslaughter or grievous bodily harm after they shoot dead suspects, he noted.
The reason, according to him, is simple: if the authority of law enforcers is compromised, there will be chaos in the society and people will have to pay.
“Has Dufton given any thought to the social context of the trial? When the issue in Hong Kong is not the abuse of authority but quite the opposite: the lack of it… When officers are given such heavy penalties, the morale of the entire police force takes a beating… Then who will vigorously enforce the law should there is another Occupy-like illegal assembly?”
The post has been widely shared on WeChat and Weibo platforms, drawing a flurry of comments that were mostly very critical of the British judge.
People’s Daily seems determined to press on with the issue, as evident from a Tuesday feature in its overseas edition that contained an interview of a pro-Beijing law scholar.
“When the majority of the society is not happy about a judgment, then it’s hard to say the judgment itself is fair,” Gu Minkang, a mainland-born law professor at the City University of Hong Kong, was quoted as saying.
“Anti-government activists like Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were merely kept in check for a few months or sentenced to community service after Occupy and Mong Kok riots, but the seven policemen may have to spend two years behind bars,” Gu said.
He suggested that the judges could be biased and that they will find it difficult to convince the public that they delivered an impartial ruling.
“It has been over two years since Occupy but the masterminds are still at large. We have reasons to worry about the Hong Kong judiciary,” said Gu.
Meanwhile, he called into question a Basic Law clause – article 82 – which allows overseas judges from other common law jurisdictions to sit on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal and jointly adjudicate cases.
There is a problem with non-local judges as their verdicts may be colored by political inclinations or ideologies, Gu suggested.
Gu writes a column at the pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Po and has been an active detractor of Hong Kong’s so-called localists and other opposition groups.
Another CCTV commentator has linked Dufton’s ruling to the legal row over the oath-taking by separatist lawmakers and a law interpretation by the National People’s Congress last November.
Dufton “may have used the case as a vengeance on the NPC move,” the commentator said.
“You won’t believe this, but 20 years after the handover, only three out of the 17 Court of Final Appeal judges are ethnic Chinese! No wonder Hong Kong is now like a modern concession or enclave on the Chinese soil where Westerners still call the shots, especially in the courts!”
The account of a mainland businessman about what he saw at a Hong Kong court was also the subject of much chatter in online forums in China.
According to the businessman, he was summoned to the Court of First Instance to testify at a hearing but to his great surprise, the prosecutor was from Britain, and all the judges in attendance were also foreigners.
“I was questioned by four British judges and two Australian judges. None of them, of course, could speak Mandarin… Only one ethnic Chinese judge appeared on the last day but he was just there to listen to the hearing…
“Later I found key positions in the Department of Justice and the Securities and Futures Commission were also taken up by Britons and Australians. You feel as if you are entirely on a foreign soil, and now I know what ‘one country, two systems’ is really like,” the businessman wrote in a blog-post.
Kemal Bokhary, now a non-permanent CFA judge, has also received special mention from mainland critics as they discussed a 2001 ruling that granted the right of abode to children born in Hong Kong to non-local parents.
It’s widely believed that Bokhary’s dissenting opinions on the matter, compared to other members of the bench, have angered Hong Kong’s establishment camp as well as their masters in Beijing.
In the decade until the government’s “zero quota” policy took effect in 2013, Bokhary’s controversial verdict was blamed for causing a situation where hordes of mainland pregnant women descended upon Hong Kong to give birth in order to secure residency rights for their kids.
A “legal loophole”, enabled by Bokhary, has contributed to the strain in Hong Kong-China relations, critics say.
Now, with the latest ruling by another foreign judge, this time on an issue concerning police officers and anti-government protesters, it’s not entirely surprising that the mainlanders are stepping up fire against the Hong Kong judiciary.
The judges are just one more addition to a long list of perceived “enemies”.
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