The Leung Chun-ying era has ended, and Zhang Xiaoming, director of the central government’s liaison office, is to be transferred back to Beijing to take up a more significant role, as director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. However, the leaving of two leaders known for their hardline views has not brought peace to Hong Kong; the political turmoil continues.
The latest drama involved pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu. Backed by the liaison office and rural leader Tsang Shu-wo, Ho launched an online petition and organised a rally to pressure the University of Hong Kong to sack Benny Tai Yiu-ting, its associate professor of law and co-organiser of the Occupy Central protests.
At the rally at Tamar Park last Sunday, which police said was attended by some 2,000 people at its peak (organisers claimed 4,000 turned up), Ho and Tsang led a Cultural Revolution-style public denunciation of Tai and the pro-independence camp. Tsang told the crowd that pro-independence activists should be “killed”, and Ho responded by leading a chant of “no mercy”.
Their actions have angered many people, but Ho has refused to apologise, arguing that the word the participants used at the rally was not “kill” but in fact “halt” (the two words are homonyms).
Twenty-two pan-democratic lawmakers have jointly released a statement condemning Ho’s speech, saying it advocated violence and breaking the law. They said Ho’s action went beyond freedom of speech, and have pledged to pursue the matter at Legislative Council meetings.
Indeed, with his threat to “kill without mercy”, Ho may have committed a criminal offence under the Public Order Ordinance. Yuen Long district councillor Tsang Shu-wo, too, should fully understand that verbal threats can be easily put into action.
Hongkongers should exercise their civil rights to file complaints with the Law Society and Legco. Pro-independence activists who are concerned for their safety may also consider reporting the case to the police. Ho, a solicitor, may also have violated his professional code of conduct. The Law Society should look into this.
In response to media inquiries, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said he would not comment on individual incidents, but pointed out that whether certain conduct or comments constituted a criminal offence would depend on the overall context.
Not long ago, Yuen successfully appealed against the non-custodial sentences of three young activists – Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Alex Chow Yong-kang and Nathan Law Kwun-chung – convicted for their involvement in the storming of government headquarters in 2014. Yuen had sought a heavier sentence on the grounds that the word “retake” in their rallying cry to “retake Civic Square” indicated the use of violence. Yet, now, Yuen is apparently fine with people openly using the word “kill” at a public rally. This smacks of double standards.
Hours after she was elected in March, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor promised to mend the severe divisions in society. So far, she has failed to make good on those promises.
Meanwhile, her secretary for justice has been making use of the common law not to defend justice and uphold the rule of law, but to oppress pro-democracy lawmakers and young student activists who aspire to make a difference.
Soon, Lam will no longer be able to blame our problems on her predecessor. She condemned as “extremely callous” and “cold-blooded” a taunt aimed at education undersecretary Christine Choi Yuk-lin on the loss of her son. Yet, Lam has only made some general comments, without naming Junius Ho. Rogue elements from the pro-government camp are ganging up, believing they hold all the trump cards as the government backs them. If Lam fails to address and fix the problem in a proper manner, her governance is doomed to be for naught.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.