No place for politics in implementation of the law

Stephen Vines is disturbed by the official silence on illegal cyberattacks

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 June, 2014, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 June, 2014, 1:57am

Hypocrisy is an ugly word; when combined with a dangerous disregard for the fundamental interests of Hong Kong, it becomes something more than ugly.

A massive intermittent cyberattack is under way to block both Occupy Central's referendum website and the far bigger websites of the Next Media group, which publishes the Occupy Central-supporting Apple Daily.

The force and breadth of these attacks suggest the mobilisation of considerable resources; not surprisingly, therefore, the finger of blame is pointing across the border.

This almost certainly explains the hypocritical wall of silence coming from government officials in the face of illegal activity that is now targeting its political opponents but tomorrow may well confront other citizens, if it becomes known that Hong Kong has become a place where there is selective implementation of the law.

In case anyone has missed the point, there is no such thing as selective implementation of the law in a society that practises rule of law.

Hong Kong has long understood the sacrosanct nature of this principle. Although the recent State Council white paper on Hong Kong confirms a worrying attitude towards this concept, it is, or should be, fully understood that partial rule of law is no more feasible than a semi-pregnancy.

Yet there is official silence on this criminal matter. Compare this with the daily warnings about the threats to law and order posed by an event that has not happened and may not happen, namely the occupation of Central.

Officials never cease emphasising that their concern flows from the fact that the Occupy movement will be engaged in illegal activity. However, their concerns are open to considerable scepticism if it becomes apparent that the law in Hong Kong is a matter of political selection.

In some ways, the attack on one of Hong Kong's largest media companies is more disturbing because it comes against a background of allegations that political pressure has been exerted on major advertisers to withdraw their patronage of this company's publications.

This, in itself, is not illegal but delivers a really worrying sign to the international business community that likes Hong Kong precisely because there is no need to factor in political considerations when taking decisions about setting up shop here. As more and more business moves over to the internet and dependency on the web lies at the heart of business activity, the threats to cybersecurity in Hong Kong can hardly be ignored.

Yet we will soon be hearing from idiots who proclaim that people and companies who keep on the right side of the Chinese government have nothing to worry about; it is, they will argue, only a problem for the dissidents.

Well, if this is really going to be said, I make no apologies for repeating the much-quoted words of the German pastor Martin Niemöller, sent to a concentration camp for refusing to be silent in the face of Nazi oppression: "First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me."

Hong Kong is hardly at this stage of oppression but this is a timely reminder of the price of silence when institutions, liberties and a way of life come under attack.

As matters stand there is no need to exaggerate how bad things are, as liberty has not been extinguished in Hong Kong. But liberty cannot be taken for granted.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur