Jail terms for Hong Kong police officers undermine faith in judicial system

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 4:42pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 8:49pm

The sentencing of seven policemen involved in an assault that occurred during the Occupy Central movement has triggered a heated debate in the local media.

There is no argument that law breakers, especially law enforcers, ought to be punished in order to uphold the rule of law, the cornerstone of our city. The issue at stake, however, is that the penalty imposed on these officers was excessive.

According to the statistics released by the secretary for security last March, of the 157 Occupy demonstrators charged by police, 68 were convicted; 30 people received sentences of two to 10 months, while nine others were required to do community service. The rest were either fined or given rehabilitation orders, and set free.

Let’s look at the events leading up to the seven police officers assaulting activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu. For the duration of the Occupy movement, police officers trying to restore public order were shouted at, condemned, jostled and hit by hard objects.

Many officers worked continuously for more than 100 hours, suffering physical and mental strain. The pouring of liquid [described in court as “foul-smelling”] by Tsang on officers was the last straw. The behaviour of the convicted officers was caused by having to endure such intolerable conditions.

These circumstances should have been taken into account before sentence was passed. If a protester who, say, threw a tile at police did not get a custodial sentence, then how can the two-year sentences be justified?

When someone throws a projectile, it could seriously injure or even kill whoever it hits. These two-year sentences cannot be seen as justice done to these officers. They are not consistent with the principle of justice for all.

As police face increasingly unruly public protests and struggle to maintain law and order, it makes joining the police force a far less attractive career. Many civic-minded young people will now hesitate before applying to join the force. A weak police force will put the safety of Hong Kong people at risk.

Many Hong Kong people feel anger and frustration over the sentences. But most importantly it also undermines their faith in our judicial system. People start to think that under “one country, two systems”, we also have “one judiciary, two enforcement practices”.

Patsy Leung, Mid-Levels