Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Rule of Law" Against "Rule by Law"

In the pre-dawn hours of October 18, 2014, the Hong Kong police, having earlier cleared road obstacles in the Mongkok area and having narrowed down the protest area to the southern part of Nathan Road  (but almost immediately protesters replaced and reinforced the road blocks), began a violent attack on unarmed and peaceful protesters. They charged into the crowd wielding batons indiscriminately on the protesters, while shouting on loudspeakers: "Stop using violence!". It is clear from various video clips that protesters had never charged at the police nor had acted violently, and they had nothing but umbrellas, goggles and masks for self-protection. A number of protesters got beaten on the head and bled profusely. Obviously, this sudden use of violence by the police without pre-warning has done nothing but stir more people to come out to occupy the streets. All this happened right on the heel of C.Y. Leung's government having consented to hold talks with representatives of the Hong Kong Federation of Students on Tuesday, October 21, 2014. Such incoherent action on the part of the SAR government is considered by the students and protesters to be serving no constructive purpose in the way of resolving the stalemate between government and the protesters.

Rumor has it that the handling of the street protests are being directly controlled by Chinese senior officials who are gathered at a luxury villa in Shenzhen for the purpose, and that Hong Kong officials travel frequently to Shenzhen to obtain instructions.

It is plain that the deepening clash is actually rooted in the fundamental difference in views about the spirit of law held by the pro-democracy camp (in fact most Hong Kongers) and the pro-government camp (including the Beijing and SAR governments). The SAR/Beijing governments regard "依法施政" (which can be interpreted as "Rule by Law") as their sacrosanct right and entitlement with no room for compromise. Once the governments determine a public act as illegal, they automatically have the inviolable right to put a stop to it even if it means resorting to excessive force and violence and ignoring citizens' basic rights. On the other hand, Hong Kongers are used to the concept of "Rule of Law" and universal values like human rights and freedoms (which are in fact protected under the Basic Law). "Rule of law" can be interpreted as "依法限權" (thanks to Legislator Dennis Kwok for this innovative and apt interpretation), meaning that the spirit of law demands self-restraint on the part of those holding power (such as a government), allowing an independent judiciary to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens. A shining example of the rule of law in practice is that Joshua Wong, who had been arrested on some unsustainable charges, was released within forty-eight hours by virtue of a court decision and order.

It is a shame and a pity that the C.Y. Leung government (in particular C. Y. Leung himself, the Chief Police Commissioner and the Chief of Security) have been trying their best to erode the spirit of Rule of Law and to make the police force a political tool for suppression of dissidents in a manner similar to that in Mainland China. The threesome have repeatedly and unilaterally labeled the Umbrella Movement as illegal and using that label as an excuse to repeatedly use excessive force and violence on peaceful protesters. There has been a case of a blatant abuse of power by seven policemen who were caught on camera brutally kicking and punching a handcuffed protester. Moreover, under the dishonorable leadership of the aforementioned threesome, citizens and policemen are being catapulted against each other in mounting distrust.

Protesters must remember to stay peaceful, keep calm and refrain from provoking the police, while the police must try to understand the Umbrella Movement only symbolizes citizens' peaceful demand for the right to choose and nominate the next Chief Executive. All Hong Kongers should unite and guard against the gradual erosion of the "Rule of Law", a most cherished core value, without which Hong Kong is not Hong Kong.


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