Edward Snowden

Hong Kong must stand tall in the fight for civic rights

Mike Rowse looks to a childhood hero for some inspiration

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 June, 2013, 3:35am

One of my childhood heroes was the American actor John Wayne, perhaps best known for his Oscar-winning performance in the western True Grit. This fascination continued into my college years when I was elected deputy sheriff of the John Wayne Appreciation Society while at Bristol Polytechnic. And on my personal website, there's a photo of me saluting a statue of him at John Wayne Airport, in California, just a few years ago.

Like all heroes, he was not perfect. But (at least in his films) he could tell the difference between good and evil, was not afraid to stand up for what was right or to protect the weak. And he could shoot straight.

All of which is by way of introduction to the subject of America's global spying programme and the extraordinary revelations of Edward Snowden.

Several things jump right off the page. First, the Patriot Act, passed by the US Congress in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. While perhaps understandable at the time, it has turned out to be a disgraceful piece of legislation and subject of wide abuse. It urgently needs to be revisited.

Second, the critics of the draft Article 23 legislation in Hong Kong - which included the very same Americans who supported their own, more draconian legislation - were correct that robust safeguards must be included because there will always be a tendency for the police and other agencies to push the envelope. We need this legislation because it is our constitutional obligation, but we need to ensure we get it right.

Third, congressional oversight has been a failure, partly because many members did not familiarise themselves thoroughly with what was being done in their name and partly because officials lied under oath when giving evidence to them.

Fourth, judicial oversight turned out to be a joke because it was done behind closed doors and an extraordinarily high percentage of applications were accepted (just 11 of almost 34,000 were rejected).

Fifth, no one in America gives a damn about the civic rights of Hong Kong people, except perhaps as a stick with which to beat Beijing. Hundreds of us have been hacked, in contravention of Hong Kong law, but the man who told us about it is called a traitor by congressmen, some of whom demanded his immediate extradition even without charges having been laid. What happened to rule of law and due process? Are they no longer part of American values?

We don't need to dwell long on the dos and don'ts. But for a start, if officials in the Department of Justice had been working with their US counterparts to identify charges which could have been brought against Snowden to facilitate his extradition, then they should have been instructed to stop. Next, we should file questions to the US consulate, seeking clarification on the reported electronic intrusions. In addition, we should issue a robust statement that Snowden, like all residents and lawful visitors, was entitled to enjoy the full protection of our laws.

How ironic that it should fall to the last substantial colony to throw off the British yoke to remind the first about the importance of freedom.

And, while we are at it, maybe a discreet message to Beijing telling it to let us handle it.

As for Wayne himself, he would have found a way of shooting former vice-president Dick Cheney (who called Snowden a traitor) and providing Snowden with protection. We should have aimed to achieve at least the second of those things.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying also attended Bristol Polytechnic, though I have no idea whether he joined the John Wayne Appreciation Society. But he is certainly capable of showing some true grit.

Mike Rowse is the search director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.