Restraint needed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 April, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 April, 2002, 12:00am

However justified their case to stay may be, right of abode seekers and their supporters unwisely allowed emotions to get the better of them when they trapped Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee inside her car on Wednesday.

The ugly scene outside the Legislative Council building was not premeditated. But as an act of challenge to the authorities, it has unwittingly given cause to an official clampdown on their protest activities.

No government can afford to be seen to be weak in dealing with anti-social behaviour. The presence of over-stayers among the protesters at Chater Garden, where parents and supporters of abode seekers have been staging a peaceful sit-in, has provided police and immigration officials with the justification that they needed to clear the park.

The authorities have clearly chosen to conduct the clearing exercise in daylight in front of television cameras. Apart from the regrettable scuffles between police and a few journalists, the operation was smooth and no undue use of force was seen to have been used.

Although natural justice is on the side of the abode seekers, public opinion is clearly not. Over the past few weeks, when they staged marches to air their grievances, some abode seekers and their supporters have clashed with members of the public.

At the Immigration Department's headquarters, scuffles had also broken out, giving the authorities an excuse to obtain a court injunction to bar some relatives of abode seekers from the premises.

The abode seekers and their supporters need to realise that they have exhausted all legal channels to assert their claims to stay in Hong Kong. The only remaining avenue that may allow some to stay is the discretionary power of the Director of Immigration, based on humanitarian considerations.

For that to happen, they have to exercise restraint and present their case rationally to win public support for their plight.

At the same time, the authorities should not exploit public sentiments against the abode seekers to unnecessarily restrict their right to vent their frustrations.


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