Attacks on our freedoms cannot be tolerated

Albert Cheng says the violence aimed at Next Media was clearly a political message, and an open challenge to the law and authority of the police

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 July, 2013, 5:00am

Central, being a global financial centre and the administrative centre of Hong Kong, is the heart of the city as well as home to the rich and powerful, the best of the best of this modern metropolis.

It is also a significant part of Hong Kong history. Many of us still remember that during the British colonial days, a governor's arrival and departure, and the handover itself, were marked by ceremonies at Queen's Pier in Central.

Equally baffling is the lukewarm reaction and inaction from the pro-government camp

Central undoubtedly epitomises Hong Kong. That's why when law academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting put forward the idea for an Occupy Central movement, at the beginning of this year, it immediately aroused immense interest from different sectors of society. It also struck a nerve with the central government.

While plans for the Occupy Central movement are being firmed up, the central government has responded by rounding up the various pro-government forces to form a counter-movement. This counter-movement is being led by Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong.

But no one, not even the central government and its liaison office in Hong Kong, would have expected members of organised crime gangs to "occupy" Central before the pro-democracy activists of the movement actually do next July, as scheduled.

Up until the eve of the July 1 rally, there had been four attacks targeted at Next Media, which owns Apple Daily, and its boss Jimmy Lai Chee-ying. In the first incident, on June 19, attackers crashed the front gate of his residence in Ho Man Tin and left behind a machete and an axe.

A week later, another group of attackers burned copies of Apple Daily after intercepting one of its delivery trucks in Hung Hom. In the third incident, a machete was left outside the Tseung Kwan O headquarters of Next Media.

In the latest incident, early on Sunday, three masked men, armed with knives, threatened the newspaper's delivery workers and then burned 26,000 copies of the paper outside City Hall in Central. If this wasn't a form of invasion to "occupy Central", what was it?

The lawlessness of these attacks seems to carry some kind of political meaning.

Firstly, the culprits have overtly broken the law and disregarded the authority of the police by openly burning copies of a newspaper in the heart of Hong Kong's financial district. The police seem to have few clues. They have made no public statement to defend or reinforce police authority, and safeguard law and order in the central business district.

Lai has put up a HK$1 million reward for information leading to the arrest of all culprits that attacked his residence and company.

The message seems to be that the police, under the leadership of commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung, will only target anti-government and pro-democracy activists who speak and act against the administration.

They seem to turn a blind eye to the people - very likely triad members - who have openly challenged the law and the authority of the police.

The attacks on Next Media were no doubt an attempt to suppress freedom of the press and free expression.

The perpetrators risk damaging the core values of Hong Kong. Strangely, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who claims to be a staunch defender of Hong Kong's core values, particularly law and order, human rights and democracy, has remained silent on the case.

Furthermore, despite the violent nature of these threats - with weapons being left behind at the crime scenes and copies of Apple Daily being burned - the police seem to have taken the case rather lightly. It's obviously a serious case of criminal intimidation and a threat to individual safety and freedom.

Equally baffling is the lukewarm reaction and inaction from the pro-government camp, including the political parties and pro-Beijing newspapers. They have spared no effort in condemning the Occupy Central movement, but have now turned a blind eye when Central is being occupied by what could be organised crime gangs.

Even the media in general have remained largely silent.

It's shameful to see this kind of cold-heartedness. I was a victim of violence when I was attacked years ago for speaking up against injustice. Those of us who truly love Hong Kong must not tolerate any form of violence.

Since Leung took office as chief executive, Hong Kong has been plagued by an increasing number of people who pretend to care for Hong Kong, but in fact are merely defending the administration.

They are a destructive force; one that is eroding our core values.

The day we allow the dark forces of the triads to take hold of Central is the day we surrender our future, our freedom and our long-established reputation as an international financial centre.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. [email protected]