Futile prosecutions

IT would be counter-productive to prosecute Vietnamese boat people who allegedly assaulted Police and Correctional Services Department (CSD) officers during camp raids last month. Hundreds of boat people, according to a CSD spokesman, were filmed attacking officers. If charged, scores of inmates could be successfully prosecuted.

But what would the potentially costly and time-consuming prosecutions achieve? Not much. Boat people, if found guilty, could be sent to jail for a short period of time. What differences would it make between locking up Vietnamese inmates in camps or jails? Again, not much. The consequences to Hong Kong, however, could be serious. Prosecutions would make heroes of the defendants and could instigate others to follow suit. Prosecutions could further damage the repatriation programme. Under such circumstances, it seems that pragmatism should prevail. The Security Branch's warnings against bringing charges should be heeded. An unequivocal message, meanwhile, must be sent to the inmates: despite their behaviour, the repatriation programme would not be hijacked.

The Police and CSD, nevertheless, should explain to the 200 officers injured during the High Island and Whitehead operations why the allegedly attackers were not brought to justice at a time when the Government recommends compensating inmates hurt in a tear-gas raid at Whitehead in April last year. Also, it might be time the Government reviewed officers' defensive equipment to see if their riot shields and helmets are good enough to withstand burning charcoal cookers, boiling water and homemade spears thrown at them during the raids.

Of course, no matter how advanced officers' gears are, the way to minimise injuries during raids lies with planning and execution. Identifying and separating trouble makers from the main camp population was a right step. Removing inmates from camps for repatriation has become, and continues to be, almost routine for the CSD. The force may not have anticipated the huge scope of such operations. A request by the CSD Officers' Association for more officers may not sound unreasonable. The association has demanded an additional 700 officers to make up a leave and training reserve. The exact number of new positions should be left for negotiation.