26 August 2019
Former superintendent Frankly Chu (middle) was found guilty in an Occupy-related case, but the police have not bothered to offer an apology to the public. Photo: HKEJ
Former superintendent Frankly Chu (middle) was found guilty in an Occupy-related case, but the police have not bothered to offer an apology to the public. Photo: HKEJ

Why’s the police chief not apologizing after the Chu verdict?

It is sad to see that Hong Kong’s police chief is still refusing to offer an apology on behalf of his force following the conviction of a now-retired officer on charges of assault in an Occupy-related case. 

As there has been no formal expression of contrition or acceptance of wrongdoing despite a three-month jail term to former police superintendent Frankly Chu, who was found guilty of beating up an innocent pedestrian during a 2014 pro-democracy protest, it raises a question as to whether the police force really understands the seriousness of the matter.

And whether it has the capability to see things clearly in black and white and rectify shortcomings.

On Sunday, several thousand police supporters took to the street to show their support for the law enforcement force. Shouting slogans such as ‘Fight for Justice’, the protesters marched from government headquarters in Tamar to Wan Chai police headquarters, and urged the government to set up a commission to monitor how justice is administered in the city.

Participants said the court’s decision last week to sentence Chu to three months in jail was unfair, as the policeman had “just performed his duty”. Some even blamed the magistrate who delivered the ruling, denouncing the foreign judge in harsh terms and calling for removal of non-Chinese judges from Hong Kong’s judicial system.

The protesters forgot that hiring foreign judges was a policy endorsed by Beijing as part of the “One Country, Two Systems”. People may have different opinions on the verdict pronounced by Principal Magistrate Bina Chainrai in the Chu case, but to suggest that she was unfair or biased is totally uncalled for.

Slamming foreign judges, with the debate taking on nationalistic — and, some would say, even racist — overtones, while seeking to make excuses for unbecoming conduct of the local police doesn’t do Hong Kong any good.

One should not forget that violence cannot be justified under the name of law enforcement, and the police must not breach the law, regardless of the circumstances. And no one is above the law.

The guilty verdict and sentencing of Chu should be seen as a normal legal event. Unfortunately, however, some pro-establishment groups are seeking to stir up passions over the court ruling and trying to interpret it in political terms.

While top leaders and political figures, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam and pro-Beijing camp veterans, say “rule of law” is the foundation of Hong Kong’s success story, the truth is that some of them put “political loyalty” on top of rule of law when it comes to cases where someone is seen acting in the interests of Beijing. Chu’s case is an example.

On Sunday, Police Commissioner Stephen Lo sought to address his officers’ concerns over the conviction of Chu, saying publicly that he felt saddened about the jail term for the retired cop.

He said the Occupy protests, which saw pro-democracy activists stage sit-ins on some public spaces in the city for 79 days, had been very demanding on the police as it was the first time the force had to deal with such a situation.

Lo declined to say if he believed what Chu had done was legal, but suggested he had strong feelings about “an officer just performing his duties during a very complicated and difficult situation.”

It wasn’t appropriate for Lo to give a speech like this in front of the media cameras. As the head of the government body that is responsible for law enforcement, the police chief should have instead stated clearly that what Chu did — hitting an innocent bystander during an Occupy protest in Mong Kok in November 2014 — was wrong.

Based on video clips provided by local television channels, Chu was seen using his baton to hit passersby more than once.

As Lo has said he was saddened by the outcome of the Chu trial, we can take his comments as indirect suggestion that he doesn’t accept the judgment. It is very troublesome if a senior official like Lo harbors such view and lets the public know about it.

For Lo, it essentially means that Chu had done nothing wrong.

As the police chief, Lo no doubt needed to take care of the feelings of his colleagues. Still, he had no excuse not to accept the court ruling.

Given that rule of law is the foundation of this city, what Lo should do is to accept the judgment and apologize to the public for Chu’s wrongdoing.

That is necessary if the police want to extend an olive branch to the general public, who had been concerned about excessive use of force by frontline officers in recent years, and bridge the trust deficit.

Sadly, Lo has been found wanting. But he can still make amends and rise to the task, if he chooses to. Hong Kong people are waiting for a sincere apology from the police.

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EJ Insight writer

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