The moral corruption of Hong Kong's opposition

August 31, 2017 11:00
A file picture shows Nathan Law and Joshua Wong arriving at a court on Aug. 17 to face verdict on charges relating to a 2014 protest. The two student leaders were among those sentenced to jail, sparking angry reactions among the opposition. Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong's opposition has said and done many things in the name of democracy. Some of its actions deserve praise, such as its steadfast fight for democracy. I don't think its bottom line of so-called true democracy without any role for Beijing is achievable but I respect opposition leaders for sticking to it. But the opposition has at times also used tactics that insult the good name of democracy.

The Mong Kok riot, although instigated by a radical faction of the opposition, was still done in the name of democracy. Instead of condemning the violence outright, mainstream opposition leaders either remained silent or justified the riot with the excuse that root causes drove young people to such acts.

Opposition legislators routinely abuse the core principles of democracy with their insolent behavior towards government officials who appear at Legislative Council meetings. Their treatment of former chief executive Leung Chun-ying was particularly insulting. They even refused to observe Legco decorum by standing up when Leung entered and left the chamber.

But all that pales in comparison to the opposition's latest tactic to promote its political self-interest. Judicial independence forms the very foundation of freedom-loving Hong Kong's values. Our judiciary has always been considered sacred by Hongkongers. The independence of our judges is never questioned.

Our internationally-respected legal system is what prevents us from becoming just another mainland city. That's why I find it so appalling that the opposition, including some of its leaders from the legal profession, is now virtually accusing our judges of colluding with the government to politically persecute young activists.

Any honest person will know student leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, and Alex Chow Yong-kang were represented by top lawyers in an open and fair trial on charges of unlawful assembly arising from their storming of government headquarters which triggered the Occupy protest. They chose not to appeal their community service sentence, implicitly accepting their guilt. Any honest person will also know the three were again represented by top lawyers in a transparent court proceeding when the government appealed against the community service sentence as being too light.

Yet the opposition dragged Hong Kong's judiciary through the mud in the international arena when the three appeal judges ruled the initial sentences were too lenient and jailed the trio from six to eight months. I can understand the western media saying our judges are now under the thumb of Beijing, the charge against Wong, Law, and Chow was bogus, and they have therefore become prisoners of conscience.

It fits into the agenda of the western media to say that. They like to romanticize Hong Kong's democracy movement as the oppressed fighting against an authoritarian regime. Their reporters, columnists, and editorial writers can be excused for seeing Hong Kong through such a lens because they either don't live here or have a limited understanding of Hong Kong.

But the opposition should know better. They should know it's a sick joke to say Hongkongers are an oppressed people devoid of rights. If people here really are politically persecuted, those who have accused our judges of being puppets would already be in gulags without trial. As former Democratic Party chairperson Emily Lau Wai-hing told me in a TV interview, Hong Kong has all the trappings of democracy except the right to vote for the chief executive.

The western media has proclaimed as proof that our judges are doing Beijing's bidding in stifling the voices of young democracy activists after they jailed Wong, Law, and Chow, thirteen others for storming Legco, and after the Court of Final Appeal rejected Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching's appeal against disqualification as Legco members. But why have opposition leaders fed and fanned this smearing of our judges instead of making clear to the world our judiciary is totally independent?

The only reason I can think of is that they don't even mind attacking Hong Kong's most treasured core value to serve their political agenda. It is now apparent they consider it fair game to destabilize a pillar of our free society – an independent judiciary – if rulings by judges don't go their way. Moral corruption is the only way to describe such behavior.

I am well aware that in today's Hong Kong any criticism of the opposition will be labeled as anti-democracy. Therefore, if you criticize the opposition for claiming without solid proof that our judges are no longer independent, you will be mocked as anti-democracy or a Beijing puppet. But such clownish behavior has never dissuaded me from speaking my mind, which is a cornerstone of democracy. The opposition does not have a monopoly on democracy. I will never let anyone define my democratic credentials.

For the record, I fully support democracy in the shape of one person, one vote. I agree Beijing doesn't trust Hong Kong people as much as it should. I feel Beijing sometimes stretches the meaning of one country, two systems to suit its policies towards Hong Kong. Anyone with half a brain knows the Liaison Office had meddled in the March chief executive election. I am uncomfortable with Beijing's tightening grip on us. And I feel the establishment camp should find its own voice instead of always taking a cue from the Liaison Office.

But the opposition is not entirely blameless for the central government’s harder line towards us. Some opposition leaders still find it hard, twenty years after reunification, to come to terms with the fact that we are now a part of China. They believe that only so-called true democracy can act as a shield against Beijing's communist regime. They ignore the fact that Beijing took a much softer line towards us after reunification but hardened its position only when the opposition challenged its authority over Hong Kong as the sovereign power.

I believe the damage done in the past few weeks to the international reputation of our independent judiciary is irreparable. It has now already sunk into the minds of the western media, western politicians, and many people in the west and here in Hong Kong that our judges are no longer independent. The most revered of our core values – one that makes us different from mainland China – has been undermined. And we have our opposition to thank for it.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.