16 November 2018
The amnesty proposal of Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai turned out to be so disfavored that he finally had to retract it and apologize to the public. Photo: HKEJ
The amnesty proposal of Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai turned out to be so disfavored that he finally had to retract it and apologize to the public. Photo: HKEJ

Nothing can justify compromising our rule of law

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai made a suggestion to Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor during a media interview a couple of days ago that she should seriously consider pardoning those who were either convicted or are still awaiting trial for criminal charges related to the Occupy Movement after she assumes office as a gesture of goodwill to facilitate reconciliation in society.

According to Wu, the acute social tension and divisions in the city largely have their roots in our unjust political system.

As such, only by resorting to political means can the incoming administration truly mend fences and heal the wounds in our politically torn society.

And by political means, Wu is referring to the act of pardoning all those who were found guilty or are facing charges linked to the Occupy Movement.

All offenders, both pro-democracy and pro-establishment alike, should be given the same treatment, he said.

Among those he believed should be granted pardon are the Occupy participants who have been arrested on public nuisance charges, the seven police officers found guilty of assaulting pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu, as well as retired police superintendent Franklin Chu King-wai who is awaiting trial on charges of assaulting pedestrians during an Occupy protest.

Wu also urged Lam to order an independent inquiry to find the root causes of the Occupy Movement and to make recommendations on how to address those issues.

Under Article 48 of the Basic Law, the Hong Kong chief executive can exercise discretion and either pardon convicted criminals or reduce their sentences.

However, the law does not specify the exact circumstances under which the chief executive can exercise this special executive power.

Almost immediately after making his suggestions, Wu came under fire not only from the pro-establishment camp but also from pan-democrats, including some of his own partymates.

As it turned out, his proposal was so disfavored that even Civic Party whip Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, who had earlier echoed Wu’s suggestion, decided to make a sudden U-turn by retracting what he had said and making an apology to the public for having failed to think it through before openly supporting the idea.

Wu’s suggestion is so badly received because if the next chief executive did accept his proposal and pardon Occupy activists and the police officers in question when court proceedings on their cases were still underway, that would constitute an outright violation of the rule of law and judicial independence.

For example, some of the seven police officers who were convicted of assaulting Ken Tsang have already filed appeals against their conviction and the sentences they received, and are awaiting court hearings.

If Carrie Lam bypasses the court and pardons them before the entire appeal process is completed, that will certainly amount to a gross interference in the judiciary by the executive branch.

Likewise, it will also constitute a breach of our rule of law if she pardons the principal organizers and participants of the Occupy Movement while they are still awaiting trial.

We firmly believe there is no room for compromise when it comes to our rule of law, and that no cause, no matter how good and noble it might seem, can justify violating proper legal procedures.

The rule of law and judicial independence are the cornerstone of the stability and prosperity of our society, and they must be upheld at all costs and under all circumstances.

Wu’s suggestion also constitutes an apparent conflict of interest because many of his pan-democratic colleagues are awaiting trial in connection with the Occupy Movement.

Even Wu himself might also face criminal prosecution for the part he played in the 2014 protests.

How could Wu convince the public that he was putting forward that idea out of entirely selfless and genuine concern for society when the pan-democrats, including himself, would be the biggest beneficiaries of the very suggestion he made?

Facing strong criticism from all sides, Wu admitted that he did not make a careful consideration of his suggestions before making them, apologized to the public and retracted his proposals.

If Wu and his party are sincere in their intentions to facilitate reconciliation in society in the aftermath of the Occupy Movement, perhaps they should come up with some other ideas that are more sensible and practical.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 19

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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