Why govt must accept independent probe into June 12 incidents

June 26, 2019 18:16
Police officers fire tear gas at protesters during an anti-extradition bill demonstration on June 12. The government is facing growing calls for an independent inquiry into the violent clashes. Photo: Reuters

The government has put the controversial extradition bill on the backburner, suggesting that the matter be deemed as closed, but that hasn't put a stop to the protest actions in society 

For example, on Monday we saw hundreds of demonstrators gather at the headquarters of the revenue and immigration departments in Wan Chai, blocking exits and causing some disruption in the area.

Given the present situation and continuing public grievances, we believe the government will keep adopting an appeasement approach as much as possible to dealing with protesters.

If Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor does indeed get “another opportunity” to improve her work and serve Hong Kong people for three more years, she is likely to “go for the easy ones first” as a general direction when it comes to launching public policy initiatives.

Yet our concern is, can “going for the easy ones first” really help the government regain public trust?

As quite a number of observers have already pointed out, lying at the root of the recent extradition bill fiasco is the trust issue.

Talking about the bill, Hongkongers had a big problem because they simply have no confidence in the mainland judicial system. And second, the public didn't buy into Lam’s so-called original purposes behind her proposed extradition law changes.

As the government failed to address the concerns or give a satisfactory explanation, the resentment against the extradition bill snowballed until it finally boiled over.

We believe there are many people out there who feel authorities must now focus on repairing social rifts and restoring trust between the government and the public in the aftermath of the extradition bill crisis.

But the question is, how exactly can we mend fences in society and restore people's faith in the administration?

In our opinion, in the long run, the key to achieving that would be reactivating constitutional reform.

But from a near-term perspective, what is needed is an independent commission of inquiry to conduct a fair, impartial and open investigation into the June 12 clashes that saw police deploy tear gas, rubber bullets and other strong tactics against demonstrators.

Establishing the truth and all the facts in relation to the incidents that took place that day will be crucial for the government if it is to win back the public's trust.

The idea of an independent inquiry doesn’t seem to sit well with some people, who are arguing that the police shouldn't be singled out as some protesters also engaged in violence on June 12.

In our view, such concerns are unwarranted, because the spirit of Hong Kong's rule of law is based on the presumption of innocence.

We believe that if an independent inquiry takes place, the outcome will be fair and that the probe will not target or single out any party, be it police or protesters, for special attention.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 25

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal