Bomb hoaxes cannot be tolerated in Hong Kong

Not only is police manpower wasted and normal life disrupted, the city’s alertness to real threats and dangers will also be undermined

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2016, 1:39am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2016, 1:39am

There are reasons why reports of false bomb alerts are treated with caution by responsible media organisations. The news may not just fuel copycat actions, it also has a cry wolf effect and makes people less sensitive to real threats. Recently, there appear to be more hoaxes. The intentions remain unknown at this stage. But the community has to send out the clearest signal that such actions cannot be accepted.

Following the explosion of an outdoor garbage bin in early December, the Legislative Council secretariat received a bomb threat last Thursday. Police did not find any suspicious objects. On Sunday, a separate alert led to the evacuation of 1,600 guests at a Tsim Sha Tsui hotel, where Falun Gong, a sect banned on the mainland, was holding a conference. A police search found two timers and five gas bottles for hotpot meals inside a box in a men’s toilet. The two cases do not seem related. But they were widely reported because of the perceived links with politics.

Making a false bomb threat is punishable by a fine of $150,000 and five years’ jail. Those behind them often think they can escape arrest. The cost of such crimes is also minimal. The culprits usually alert the authorities but the impact can be substantial, as shown in the disruption on Sunday.

Two years ago, a 50-year-old man left a bomb hoax message in a coffee shop at the IFC mall, claiming Xinjiang Muslims had placed explosives at the centre. In 2010, a 17-year-old student with Asperger’s syndrome called in several bomb threats to the airport, saying al Qaeda would attack the city. The warnings may sound remote. But it makes sense to err on the side of caution.

The reasons behind bomb hoaxes are various, ranging from pranks and mental illness to anti-social behaviour or revenge. They may also be used to disrupt scheduled events or to scare off targeted people or bodies. Whatever the motive, such actions cannot be tolerated. Not only is police manpower wasted and normal life disrupted, but the city’s alertness to real threats and dangers will also be undermined.