Hong Kong's 'freedom fighters' should understand that disrespect of others has no place in a free society

Alice Wu says protesters' disruption of a student debate to make a political point speaks poorly about our true commitment to civil society

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 May, 2015, 11:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 May, 2015, 11:00pm

Where were our self-proclaimed freedom fighters when an annual secondary school debating contest was disrupted by protesters recently? Where was their outrage? Right. Some of them were the disruptors themselves, displaying their idiocy and lack of decency by hijacking a student debate competition.

The irony, of course, is not lost here - the virtue of civility and the art of persuasion in debate, and a celebration of that, ruined by a few who have no business being there, in an outrageous display of incivility. To add insult to injury, we had current and former lawmakers leading the disruption. How low, really, can one go? Stealing students' limelight has to be a new low.

The ridiculous lengths to which some people will go to get media attention cannot be underestimated. It led them to completely disregard the feelings of the students, parents and teachers involved, and the hard work they had put in.

Some blamed the lack of security measures. That completely misses the point. Such measures would have been deemed unnecessary for inter-school events in Hong Kong's better days. Besides, a lack of security measures does not excuse the protesters' behaviour.

So perhaps we should not be surprised by the fact that a video clip showing a group of students defending the government's constitutional reform package was thoroughly condemned - rightfully so - for its infringement of the students' privacy, when it was published without the students' consent. Yet, too little has been said about the cyberbullying that followed.

I would certainly like to see the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data conduct an investigation on the Hong Kong Guangxi Community Organisations' handling of the pupils' interviews. Infringement of privacy is one issue, but what about the cyberbullying that left some students and their parents emotionally disturbed?

While it's true that the students would not have been harassed if the organiser had not released the video, it is also true that free-thinking people have the ability - and duty - not to bully others, to avoid engaging in activities that target, defame and humiliate people. If the students' privacy has been invaded, to also make them targets of abuse should be equally unacceptable.

Yes, direct your outrage at the organiser, but also direct it at the despicable behaviour of trolls. If the organiser is found to have flouted regulations, then punishment is due for making the pupils susceptible to harassment. But those who did the harassing need to be held accountable, too. In other words, the organiser may have provided the circumstances, and presented the opportunity, but the harassment - the offence - was acted upon with intent.

And this goes to the heart of what we take to be the meaning of freedom of expression. To subject those with a different opinion or view to harassment, or for people to be unwilling to make their views known for fear of harassment, says a lot about how far we've allowed incivility to rob us of our liberties.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA