Silence breeds suspicion

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 March, 2002, 12:00am

One of the tenets of free and fair application of the law is that justice is not only done, but seen to be done. And there is no doubt that, despite controversies, Hong Kong's reputation for disinterested justice remains. Without this reputation one of the great pillars of our success would be lost.

Consequently, it is baffling why the Government is so reluctant to explain the case of a Nigerian prisoner, first highlighted by this newspaper and last week raised in Legco in a written question to the Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee.

At every step of the way the Government has felt unable to dispel the perfectly understandable suspicion that something is amiss in this case. And the Government's reason for its reluctance? Respect for the prisoner's right to privacy.

This explanation is too glib and convenient. The magnitude and consequences of this incident can hardly be compared with the Right of Abode reinterpretation; nevertheless, the drip-drip effect of such unexplained government action that raise serious procedural questions will ultimately be just as damaging.

The facts are simple. A young man - Oluwaseni Olusanmokun - is convicted of possessing a stun gun and of wounding a police officer and sentenced to two years in prison. The only complication is that the man is the son of a Nigerian diplomat, whose father sought - and failed - to have charges against his son dropped on the grounds of diplomatic immunity. Two-and-a-half months into his sentence, Olusanmokun is returned to Nigeria. Eight previous applications from prisoners - mostly sentenced for drug offences and fraud - to return to Nigeria to complete sentences have failed. The Government refuses to say why this case is different and whether it has ascertained that Olusanmokun is serving his sentence in Nigeria.

Even more bizarrely, government departments refuse to say whether Olusanmokun is in a Hong Kong prison or has been released, or has been returned to Nigeria. Respect for the prisoner's privacy is the reason given. A more fundamental question must therefore be asked: which is more important? A proper explanation of why a prisoner has been released and whether it has been confirmed he is, as required, completing his sentence in his home country, or respect for a prisoner's privacy? The Government should realise that by not proffering basic facts its only achievement is to arouse suspicion that a diplomat's son has been made a special case - which is deeply unfortunate.