Hot on the heels of Carrie Lam’s election as our next chief executive on Sunday, came the mass arrests of key organizers and participants of the 2014 Occupy movement on charges of committing nuisances in public places or inciting others to do so.
The “coincidental” timing with which the arrests were made immediately aroused suspicion in the pro-democracy camp that Carrie Lam probably just couldn’t wait to show herself in her true colors after her election victory had been secured and mount a massive retaliation against pro-democracy activists.
So far, nine people have been arrested by the police, including law professor Benny Tai, sociology professor Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, the trio who first proposed the idea of occupying Central in 2013, as well as lawmaker Tanya Chan of the Civic Party, lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun, former Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat and several student activists. It is expected that more people will be placed under arrest over the next few days.
The fact that some among those who were arrested are Election Committee members who had publicly vowed not to support Lam has further reinforced the suspicions among pan-democrats that she is behind the ongoing “crackdown”.
The question is, should we draw any inferences and blame Lam for the arrests?
Perhaps Lee Wing-tat is right: he believes Carrie Lam had nothing to do with the police operation, and it could probably be the idea of outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who may want to nail those who took part in the Occupy movement before he leaves office on July 1.
When asked by reporters about the arrests, Lam disavowed any prior knowledge of the police operation and added that our existing system guarantees that law enforcement agencies are free from external intervention under all circumstances when it comes to carrying out investigations and operations. Even the incumbent chief executive and the chief executive-elect, she said, cannot interfere in their decisions.
However, Lam also stressed that even though she had nothing to do with the arrests, she believes the police are fully justified in doing so because, as she put it, “mending fences in society doesn’t necessarily mean the government has to compromise on the rule of law”.
We believe Lam does have a point there because the people who were arrested did break the law during the Occupy movement, and what the police are doing is simply carrying out their duty.
Besides, all the key participants in the Occupy movement knew perfectly from day one that there would be a price to pay for taking part in civil disobedience activities and that they could risk being arrested and prosecuted for their actions.
And the reason they still chose to take the risk is because they believed it was worth it, and that they were willing to sacrifice for their cause. That said, they should be well aware that it is only a matter of time before they come to trial.
It would be totally unfair and inappropriate for anyone to refer to the recent arrests as political persecution against the opposition or crackdown on dissent, as the arrests were made on substantial and indisputable legal grounds.
As deputy judge Lily Wong said (she sentenced a 23-year-old man to two years in prison for committing arson in front of the Legislative Council building), no matter how noble it might be, a criminal act cannot be justified.
However, despite the fact we have enough reasons to believe Carrie Lam has nothing to do with the arrests, as more and more people are likely to appear on the police wanted list, the whole saga might gradually snowball into an all-out political controversy in the days ahead.
In fact, it might in the end turn out to be the first major political test for Lam as the new chief executive.
There might be no room for compromise when it comes to upholding the rule of law but there is certainly plenty of room for compromise when it comes to facilitating reconciliation in society.
We urge Carrie Lam to extend the olive branch to members of the pro-democracy camp and open dialogue with them after July 1 so as to move our society forward.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Mar. 28
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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