Two recent developments in our city’s courts should make us proud to be Hong Kong citizens.
They showed to the whole world that the rule of law prevails in our city, which, though under China’s sovereignty, maintains an independent judicial system.
We are, of course, referring to the cases of former chief executive Donald Tsang, who has been jailed for 20 months for misconduct in public office, and of the seven police officers who were jailed for two years for attacking a pro-democracy activist during the Occupy protests in 2014.
Indeed, both cases support the “one country, two systems” principle, highlighting the fact that Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China that enjoys a high degree of autonomy and operates a system for dispensing justice that is free from political intervention.
It is this independent judicial system that serves as a foundation for Hong Kong to maintain its status as an international financial center, and a modern and progressive metropolis.
Beijing recognizes the the independence of our judicial system. Article 85 of the Basic Law states clearly that “the courts of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall exercise judicial power independently, free from any interference”.
This particular provision of our mini-constitution protects our judges so they can decide each case without fear or favor, regardless of who is the plaintiff or defendant, whether it involves a former leader of our city or our police officers.
Unfortunately, there are certain elements in society, particularly Beijing loyalists and instruments of the Communist Part of China who apparently find it hard to accept some of our courts’ rulings.
The jailing of the seven police officers, for example, raised a huge outcry from their ranks.
Pro-establishment personalities were quick to denounce Judge David Dufton of the District Court for “failing” to see that the policemen had been provoked and forced into beating the activist, adding that the judge should have shown sympathy to the law enforcers, instead of punishing them.
Even a Beijing-based newspaper controlled by the Communist Party saw it fit to jump into the fray.
The tabloid Global Times compared the Hong Kong judge who jailed the police officers to a “partial referee” in a football match.
A commentary in the newspaper said so many illegal acts were committed during the civil disobedience campaign of 2014, and yet the heaviest penalties were slapped on the seven police officers.
“Hong Kong’s judicial system was continuing with the colonial legacy, and, unlike the city’s government, had failed to build up loyalty to the Basic Law and the Chinese constitution,” the commentary said.
It noted that the “one country, two systems” principle was a political arrangement intended to ensure a smooth transition of sovereignty, and certainly not to drive Hong Kong farther away from China.
In conclusion, the commentary said the city’s higher court should correct the ruling.
The premises laid down by the article are strange at best, and since they came from a state-owned publication, worrying.
For instance, how can an independent judiciary drive Hong Kong away from China? Does it mean that if a court ruling does not favor the authorities, or is not what the authorities expected, the “one country, two systems” principle would suffer?
Meanwhile, the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, quoted a scholar at the City University of Hong Kong as saying that the ruling on the seven policemen reflects the problem of having foreign judges in Hong Kong’s judiciary.
Expressing deep shock over the ruling, Professor Gu Minkang told the newspaper that it is unfair for foreign judges to make a judgement based on their biased stance.
He said it is unreasonable for the court to sentence Ken Tsang, the victim in the case, to a shorter jail term than the police as it was his actions that triggered the incident.
Gu also said Hong Kong people’s trust in the judiciary may have been shaken as the government has yet to send the organizers of the Occupy Movement to court.
The ruling, in fact, became another rallying point among the city’s Beijing loyalists, who bewailed the judge’s bias toward the pro-democracy activist.
They said the judge should have supported the policemen as they worked hard and were kept under tremendous pressure during the Occupy protests.
Gu even maintained that the rule of law in Hong Kong could be in danger after police officers, who contributed much to peace and order in the community, were jailed “just because of their emotional response to a protester’s provocation”.
Many pro-establishment personalities took to social media to insult the judge, saying that he was biased against the policemen because he was a foreigner.
For Beijing loyalists, the judiciary is but one of the Communist Party’s tools to govern Hong Kong. For them there is no such thing as an independent court.
They believe that all courts should perform their duty based on their loyalty to the Communist Party, which means that all their actions and decisions should be in line with the central government’s policies. Otherwise, the judiciary is not loyal to Beijing.
Such thinking is part of efforts to integrate Hong Kong into the mainland. Beijing, after all, believes that the judicial system must serve the Communist Party, and as such court rulings cannot run counter to the party’s policies.
And so it becomes clear that these Beijing loyalists do not respect the rule of law in Hong Kong. For if they abide by this fundamental principle of our city, they should respect the judge’s decision or make an appeal to a higher court for a more favorable judgement.
By resorting to insults and appealing to emotions, they are only damaging the rule of law in Hong Kong.
What’s disappointing is that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen failed to stand up and defend the independence of the courts.
Their silence could mean that they agree with what these Beijing loyalists have been saying in the past few days.
Hong Kong people should put pressure on the chief executive contenders to commit themselves to the safeguarding of the city’s rule of law.
By tolerating the wrong actions of pro-Beijing groups, they would only contribute to the erosion of the rule of law in Hong Kong.
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