We can't accept attacks on cornerstones of our success

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 July, 2009, 12:00am

The sentencing of gunman Huang Nanhua to 16 years in prison is a fitting punishment for his part in a failed bid to harm two of Hong Kong's most prominent pro-democracy advocates. However, the mastermind has never been identified and several suspects remain at large. That fits a persistent pattern of vicious attacks on high-profile public figures in recent years. In these cases, the real masterminds almost always escape justice. As a result, harm has been done to the image of our city.

Hong Kong, with justification, prides itself on observance of the rule of law and the effectiveness of its police force. Indeed, it was thanks to swift action by the police that a conspiracy was foiled before harm could befall former lawmaker Martin Lee Chu-ming and publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying. As we report today, a police roadblock at which Huang was intercepted may have been a well-laid trap arising from a tip-off. The police have performed admirably in stopping a heinous crime being committed; they must now press on with their investigation to try to catch the culprits behind the attack and bring them to justice.

However, if the past is anything to go by, such an outcome is unlikely. Henchmen such as Huang probably have the most relevant information, but they are usually paid to keep their mouths shut or are simply too afraid to disclose what they know. The assailants who attacked Mr Lee's fellow democrat and lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan in a restaurant in 2006 were caught and jailed. They have kept their silence to this day despite an offer by the presiding judge in their trial to reduce their sentences if they would finger the brains behind the assault. Former radio host and lawmaker Albert Cheng King-hon almost lost his life when he was attacked in 1998 on his way to work. A year before that, assailants went to the office of journalist Leung Tin-wai and chopped off his hand. The people who ordered and paid for the attacks were never caught.

Mr Lee and Mr Lai have been outspoken advocates of democracy, but both men think it would be foolhardy and counterproductive for their political opponents to try to use violent means to silence them. Most likely, the conspiracy against them was motivated by activities or business outside the political arena. Whether or not people agree with the political stance they take, the community has a duty to guarantee their safety.

What is most troubling in these attacks is the deliberate targeting of politicians and media figures. The ability of public figures to speak out without the threat of violence is crucial to our city remaining vibrant and free. The attacks, therefore, not only victimise individuals but undermine the very freedom and safety that are the cornerstones of Hong Kong's success. Beneath the glittering surface of our wealthy, well-run and generally safe society, there are clearly people powerful or shadowy enough to be able to commit serious crimes with virtual impunity. For the sake of our city's future, this state of affairs has to end.