Police removal of district councillor at meeting sends wrong message

Albert Cheng believes the incident needs further investigation as it concerns the role of law enforcement and our democratic development

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 6:18pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 2:37am

Government in any democratic political system is supposed to be representative. Thus, parliamentary politics must not be trampled by the executive and law enforcement bodies.

To safeguard normal parliamentary functions, the law endows upon legislators privileges so that they are protected from any interference during meetings inside the Legislative Council chamber or on their way to meetings.

Furthermore, legislators are exempt from criminal liability for what they say during parliamentary proceedings.

District councillors don't enjoy the same privileges. But there should be unwritten rules about extending the same respect and privilege to our district councillors. That means no form of interference should be allowed when district councillors are partaking in council proceedings.

Thus it was farcical and scandalous, to say the least, to see the police forcibly remove a Democratic Party district councillor from a meeting of the Central and Western District Council's working group on civic education on Thursday last week.

Ted Hui Chi-fung was expelled following a vote by his council colleagues, who complained that he was filming the meeting and disrupting the session. The police action seriously damaged the integrity of district councils and infringed upon their powers.

Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung defended the officers involved, saying they had only acted in accordance with the law for the purpose of maintaining a peaceful society. But when asked by reporters to elaborate on what he meant by a peaceful society, he became impatient and told them to seek legal advice if they wanted to get a proper definition of the term.

Then it got even more ridiculous.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying came out in support of the police action the following day, which showed disregard for both the letter and the spirit of the law.

Let's review what was at stake.

The row erupted at a Central and Western District Council working group meeting to discuss the allocation of HK$250,000 for the promotion of the Basic Law. A Beijing loyalist group, the Hong Kong Island Federation, was bidding for HK$150,000 to be used for promotion activities.

It later emerged that Sidney Lee Chi-hang, the chairman of the working group, is a legal adviser for the federation.

Hui and a few reporters wanted to attend and film the meeting to increase the transparency of the bidding process, especially when there was obvious conflict of interest as Beijing loyalists on the working group were seen to be trying to direct public money to a pro-government group.

Lee claimed Hui was expelled because members were uncomfortable being filmed.

But Lee and any other council colleagues with links to the federation should have been the ones who were removed.

The police, too, should not have interfered without full knowledge of what was going on.

Since Leung took over as chief executive, he has created a highly divisive society, making it clear that "if you are not with me, you must be against me" in order to suppress the voices of the opposition and the pan-democrats.

The police chief has chosen to enforce the law in a selective manner in a bid to silence the opposition.

There is good reason to wonder whether frontline officers have been unknowingly "brainwashed" - after all, they are being told day after day that the pan-democrats and the opposition are troublemakers, hence they will treat them as a menace to society.

But, ultimately, the buck stops with Tsang and he should be responsible for the disastrous outcome of events that have damaged the integrity of the police force as well as our democratic representative government.

The force must remain politically neutral in the process of law enforcement. Tsang must ensure the police force is not being used as a political tool.

The Democratic Party at first reacted only mildly to the incident, even though now it has said it will seek a judicial review over Hui's removal from the meeting.

This incident should be taken seriously and further investigated.

It concerns more than just the integrity and authority of our district councils; it goes down to the foundation of Hong Kong's democracy.

We should not allow such a bad precedent to exist, as it would open the floodgates to even more unacceptable precedents.

We must remember that our political future is at stake and our democratic development is being threatened.

If we don't speak up and fight back now, we will only allow repression to fester and we will find ourselves on an inevitable road to self-destruction.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk