Not just rule by fear but also rule by threats

August 27, 2020 07:34
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she hopes Hongkongers would attach weight to what she says. Photo: RTHK

A tale of three crashes will help you understand Hong Kong’s descent into authoritarianism. Last October 6, a taxi driver rammed into a crowd of anti-government protesters, severely injuring a young woman. A month later, on November 11, a motorcycle cop rammed into black-clad protesters. Last month, on July 1, a motorcyclist with a “Liberate Hong Kong” flag rammed into a group of policemen.

Police did not charge the taxi driver. The motorcycle cop is back on duty after a brief suspension. But the motorcyclist who rammed into policemen was speedily arrested, charged with offenses under the national security law, and has been denied bail.

There’s more to this tale of authoritarian double-standards. A judge allowed opposition legislator Ted Hui Chi-fung to launch a private prosecution against the taxi driver, ruling there was enough evidence. But Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah used her power to quash it.

This authoritarian tale doesn’t end there. Last November 11, the same day the motorcycle cop rammed into black-clad protesters but faced no punishment, a policeman shot a young protester, severely injuring him. He too faced no punishment. A judge again allowed Hui to launch a private prosecution. Cheng again quashed it.

Let’s put this into context. The courts allowed over 50 private prosecutions from just before the handover. During those many years, the Justice Department killed only two. Cheng quashed two within one week. When the government previously aborted private prosecutions, it gave detailed reasons. Cheng has not done that, saying only there was insufficient evidence.

The law doesn’t oblige her to give a full explanation. But she is a political appointee who has shown her obsequious loyalty to Beijing. We all know what Beijing’s orders are for the government – use all means to crush the opposition.

That’s why the government disqualified 12 opposition Legislative Council candidates, then postponed the elections for fear of an opposition landslide, used the national security law to raid a media outlet critical of the government and arrest its owner, and quashed two private prosecutions initiated by an opposition legislator.

Since the courts had allowed the two prosecutions, why not let them proceed to show the world the rule of law is still intact, whatever the outcome? But that would require Lam and Cheng to really believe in the rule of law. If Cheng believed in unbiased justice, she would have recused herself, sought independent advice as in the past, and let the director of public prosecutions decide.

But there is no real director of public prosecutions anymore. He quit and will leave at year’s end, confirming he could not see eye to eye with Cheng and was shut out of anything to do with the new security law. His resignation was a damning indictment of Cheng. Neither she nor Lam had the decency to at least pay tribute to a loyal civil servant who was with the department for 25 years.

Lam on Tuesday denied Cheng’s meddling in the private prosecutions was politically motivated. Believe that if you believe she is still running Hong Kong. She said critics had disrespected the judiciary by claiming Cheng’s interference was political. Let me correct our puppet leader: Cheng disrespected the judiciary by killing private prosecutions allowed by the courts.

What made me laugh was Lam’s claim she could not discuss the details of the two cases because the justice secretary handles legal cases. But weren’t school textbooks just changed to say Hong Kong has no separation of powers? Doesn’t that give her the power to talk about anything she wants? Hongkongers no longer have that same freedom under the security law.

Just last Sunday the police warned an opposition activist he could be breaking the security law for saying “five demands, not one less” while handing out facemasks. When a passerby repeated the slogan, the police unfurled its new purple flag to warn the activist and others they could be violating the security law. We have entered an era where it’s not just rule by fear but also rule by threats.

Nowhere in the security law does it say the slogan is illegal. Nor does it state the “liberate Hong Kong” slogan is illegal although the government warned it connotes Hong Kong independence. What violates the vague security law with its many red lines is for the courts to decide, not the government or the police.

Last month I wrote here a fictitious movie about an authoritarian Hong Kong has become fact, not in ten years as the movie predicted but in just five. A month after I wrote that, our justice secretary has proved my point.

Let’s end with a laugh. Our puppet leader said two days ago she hopes Hongkongers would attach weight to what she says. No, they don’t, Mrs Lam. They feel everything you say is a weight on them because your every word sells them out.

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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.