The case of the seven police officers, who were found guilty of assaulting a pro-democracy activist during the 2014 Occupy protests, has triggered a deep sense of indignation among active and retired members of the police force.
Even some members of the public believe the two-year prison sentence imposed on the officers was a bit too heavy.
Under normal circumstances, the officers can file an appeal against their conviction and jail term, while the police department can offer help to their families and their colleagues can raise money within the force to help them pay for their legal fees.
In other words, the whole case could have been settled peacefully, sensibly and rationally without sparking any controversy – under “normal circumstances”.
Unfortunately, our society today is in a state of abnormality, and it is probably against such a background that the police unions and sympathizers of the seven jailed officers have adopted an abnormal way to express their disapproval of the court decision.
First, members of several pro-establishment and diehard pro-police organizations took to the streets almost immediately after the seven policemen had been sentenced to jail, to protest against the ruling.
Then a number official mouthpieces in the mainland also weighed in and complained that 20 years into the handover, the judiciary in Hong Kong remains dominated by western judges who don’t understand the objective realities in the city and the mainland.
That was followed by statements from pro-establishment politicians and leftists expressing their support for the seven policemen and casting doubts on the court ruling.
And it got worse. At a recent rally in support of the seven officers, which was jointly organized by four police unions, some emotional speakers swore like a trooper before an audience of about 30,000 people, and said it was exactly that kind of abusive language that frontline police officers faced on a daily basis in their line of duty, drawing deafening cheers from the crowd.
Then in the heat of the rally, a seemingly over-excited and over-imaginative police officer addressed the crowd, and drew a parallel between the woes frontline law enforcement officers face nowadays and the suffering of Jews in the Holocaust during the Second World War.
The comparison immediately drew strong criticism from the Israeli and German consulates in Hong Kong, which slammed the reference to the Jewish Holocaust for being “wrong” and “inappropriate”.
In its statement, the German consulate said “the reported reference to the Holocaust shows a regrettably insufficient knowledge of historical facts”.
The police leadership immediately dissociated themselves from the unions and stressed that the views expressed by the speakers during the rally didn’t represent the position of the Hong Kong police force.
Nonetheless, the saga received widespread coverage from international media, and became a subject of mockery among local netizens.
Undoubtedly, the reputation of our police force has been dented by such an ignorant remark.
Chan Cho-kwong, chairman of the Junior Police Officers’ Association (JPOA), said his organization is working aggressively to make sure the seven policemen will “be vindicated and walk free with their heads held high”.
That reminds me of a high-profile case that happened 50 years ago, in which three sergeants-at-arms at the North Kowloon Magistrates’ Court were convicted of manslaughter following the death of an arrested man who had taken part in the 1967 leftist riots and died of unnatural causes while being held in custody awaiting trial.
The three officers were later acquitted by the court of appeal and released.
Unlike today, when our society is divided over the conviction of the seven officers, back in 1967 public opinion was overwhelmingly in favor of the three officers.
It is because the leftist riots had terrified and alienated the local population so much that the public had basically no sympathy for anyone who participated in those riots.
Moreover, police officers beating up suspects were a routine occurrence in those days, and people just got so used to the fact.
The conviction of the seven policemen indicates a significant shift in the public’s attitude towards the use of excessive force by the police against civilians.
Torture of any individual by police officers is no longer tolerated by the public in today’s society.
That said, I strongly urge the government and the police leadership to stay vigilant against any attempt by politicians to undermine the rule of law and fish in troubled waters by taking advantage of public emotions over the case of the seven officers.
Once dubbed “a bunch of thugs that carry badges”, our police force today has come a long way and turned into a highly professional law enforcement agency.
So don’t let people turn back the clock and ruin our police force’s hard-earned reputation.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Mar. 1
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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