Hong Kong’s Law Enforcement Is Failing Its Citizens

An end to police injustice should be on every Hong Kongers Christmas list this year and it only takes Ken Tsang’s journey through the Hong Kong legal system to painfully illustrate why. He has been accused of assaulting 11 Police Officers by splashing water on them from an overpass, during last year’s occupation. Albeit slightly ridiculous, since at the time tear gas and pepper spray was being more than “splashed” over hundreds of citizens, such act in fact could be considered an assault legally since there is no requirement of physical harm for an assault to occur; just that the officer felt to be in immediate danger of harm, making the  case that perhaps Hong Kong needs less faint-hearted police officers. The Hong Kong courts do have a precedent of supporting outlandish and laughable claims from police officers. In August, Ng Lai-ying was sentenced to three and a half months in prison for using her “left breast” to assault a police officer. Almost comically, the Court then went on to claim that she was using her female identity to trump up the allegation that the officer had molested her, in defence of the assault! Naturally, it is safe to assume if a breast can be found to be a weapon, which no doubt physically harmed and scared the officer greatly, certainly water will be as well.MR5 1

Unamusingly, the charges against Tsang were brought at the same time as charges were brought against the infamous ‘dark corner 7 police officers’, who handcuffed and proceeded to mercilessly beat him. Both events took place during last year’s umbrella movement, and it is only now that the Government is taking any action. Let us not forget the famous maxim; “justice delayed is justice denied“. It can easily be suggested that the charges suddenly brought against the pro-democratic figurehead Tsang, are politically motivated. In order to face further embarrassment and damage to the reputation of the Police Force, it may be that the Government wish to draw the public eye away from the true issue at hand, or in fact offering some lame attempt to justify the actions of the 7 “upholders of the law”. If Tsang’s supposed crime was as reprehensible as is claimed, why was he not charged with assault when it happened? What could possibly make it okay for the officers to take the law into their own hands and distribute a severe and personal punishment?

The results of Tsang's beating

The results of Tsang’s beating

It was only in October that Tsang’s lawyer, James McGowan, finally got a detailed accusation of what is claimed actually happened. At the plea hearing, he asked for a short adjournment in order to process the information they had received. Prosecutor David Leung responded by claiming that it would delay the court, and justice, for too long. McGowan artfully pointed out perhaps the Department of Justice should have considered that when they took a year to bring the case.

Some of the "Evidence" against Tsang (HKFP)

Some of the “Evidence” against Tsang (HKFP)

Many have suggested that it is a common tactic of Hong Kong law enforcement to simply sit on a case for as long as it takes to drop out of the public eye. Franklin Chu King-wai illustrates another situation where it appears that the Police have desperately tried to sweep due process under the rug in order to protect their own interests, and it spells out a worrying pattern for Hong Kong’s activists.

As seen in the video below, now-retired Superintendent Franklin Chu seemingly randomly struck out at peaceful protestors walking past him with his baton. Upon investigation by the Complaints Against Police Officers, the case for assault was dismissed. CAPO is an internal branch of the police force, investigating its own officers.  Imagine if a factory received complaints that they were tipping waste into a river, would the factory be able to say it had inspected itself and decided it had done nothing wrong without some level of independent investigation? Legitimate concerns of biased behavior would arise. If the role was reversed and the protestor had hit the police officer, the protestor would have rightfully been jailed immediately (although going from the story of Tsang, it is likely he would have picked up a few bruises on the way), so why hasn’t Chu?

If we side-step these issues initially, we are left asking on what basis did they come to the conclusion that Chu did not assault anyone by striking them with his baton. Two of the reasons given by CAPO for the attacks, were that firstly Chu was on duty, and secondly that he did not target anyone specifically. Both of these reasons are ridiculous. Being on duty does not justify force, and the law of assault does not require a specific target to be in mind at the time of the event. It does however draw an interesting parallel with Tsang. The police do not wish to prosecute an officer for wielding a weapon designed to harm, as he had no target in mind, however, they are willing to prosecute someone for allegedly pouring water over a bridge. Which of the supposedly 11 assaulted officers were specifically targeted by the hyper-accurate water bottle being brandished by the assailant? Such contradictions undermine the legitimacy and effectiveness of the police, and bring about suggestions that they are a closed-shop of thugs who believe they are above the law.

So what justice is left for Hong Kong? The case of Chu was referred on to the Independent Police Complaints Council who stated that he was guilty of assault. CAPO rejected these findings in July, rendering them worthless, as the IPCC has no power to initiate court proceedings itself. They can only refer the case on to the Chief Executive, CY Leung, to make a final decision, and we all know who he is likely to side with. There is ultimately no point in having an independent commission if they cannot overrule potentially biased police “self-investigations”. The IPCC should exist to secure the provision of impartial justice to the citizens of Hong Kong in violations by the police. However, the reality is that the IPCC cannot directly prosecute the police and are only allowed to do their job effectively if given permission by the police themselves.

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This selective enforcement of the law suggests that the police no longer distribute justice. They offer nothing more than discriminatory and politically motivated prosecutions, which seek to silence and scare anyone standing in the way of their objectives. This leaves us with a single, lingering question. What is the difference between having no law, and having a law which is only enforced against those who do not side with the powerful?

Callum Phillips
About Callum Phillips
Callum Phillips hails from a small town in Wales and is a reluctant Law student at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Leicester. His interests lie in Governance, Human Rights, Social Activism and generally questioning authority. While he is in Hong Kong he has become a very vocal campaigner and a staunch pro-democratic & morality-centred commentator. Tweet him @CallumPhillips8