Warning tape

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 July, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 July, 1995, 12:00am

CHINA's release of a chilling videotape of the alleged 'confession' of detained American human rights activist Harry Wu Hongda is a sad reminder of how little the rule of law can mean on the mainland. It also immensely increases the case for Mr Wu's immediate release. In any country with a well-developed legal system, the prosecution's brazen flaunting of such potentially prejudicial material would automatically lead to the case being thrown out of court, on the grounds that it makes a fair trial impossible.

It may be hoped that the tape is a propaganda move to prepare the ground for Mr Wu's eventual release, although few expect this to happen promptly. Even on Beijing's own interpretation, however, the supposed 'confession' fatally undermines the case against Mr Wu. If the BBC documentaries for which he is being held are now revealed to be false, then there can be no basis for charging Mr Wu with stealing state secrets.

In reality, Just see the lies of [Harry] Wu Hongda proves no such thing. All it shows is that the two documentaries contained mistakes and instances of shoddy journalism - something which has long been privately known in media circles. At no stage does Mr Wu admit responsibility for these errors. Instead, he explains how he unsuccessfully tried to persuade reporter Sue Lloyd-Roberts to change them. For all its revelations of wrongly-labelled screen-shots, Beijing's videotape does not even attempt to dispute the basic message of the first documentary: that prison-made goods are being exported from Xinjiang. While it does cast some doubt on the details of the second documentary's allegations about the sale of organs from executed prisoners, China cannot credibly deny that this occurs, given all the evidence from other sources - including repeated investigative reports by this newspaper.

Even worse is the way a videotape of police interrogation sessions was released by a supposedly private business with strong links to China's State Council (at an initial asking price of HK$389,000) in a nasty attempt to profit out of Mr Wu's plight. In Hong Kong, such a step would have led to contempt of court proceedings.

This sorry incident highlights the gaping gulf between China and the territory's legal systems, and so reinforces the importance of maintaining Hong Kong's adherence to the common law after 1997, something which Wednesday's passage of the Court of Final Appeal bill goes a long way towards ensuring. China should realise that its attitude towards the rule of law can only harm its efforts to build a modern society - a message which delegates to the forthcoming LawAsia conference, from which Democratic Party Chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming has been banned, should carry with them to Beijing.