Hong Kong's radical protesters sink to new low by bullying children

Alice Wu says the actions of raucous activists who vilified a mainland-born undocumented boy to make a political point reflect the steady erosion of civility

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 May, 2015, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 May, 2015, 9:00pm

Hong Kong is under siege from a kind of panic. I'm calling it "Panic" - Political Aggressive Nihilist Insurgents of the Cantankerous kind. The Panic brigades are running amok, and their guerilla tactics of ambush and sabotage appear, of late, to have developed an affinity with the most vulnerable of targets: children.

Not so long ago, these "insurgents" ignored a crying little girl while they surrounded and harassed her mother and examined the woman's luggage, in the name of taking a stand against parallel trading. Since then, they have gate-crashed a secondary school debating contest (to protest against the government's political reform proposals) and picked on Siu Yau-wai, a 12-year-old mainland-born boy who hopes to remain in Hong Kong.

To make their views known on the boy's situation, they held raucous protests outside the Confucian Tai Shing Primary School, which helped to assess the boy's academic level, the nearby office of lawmaker Chan Yuen-han, who was helping the boy, the Immigration Department headquarters, and the Kwun Tong estate where Yau-wai and his grandmother lived until recently.

It's debatable whether Chan, by making public the boy's plight, made matters worse for him and his grandmother. As a veteran politician, Chan should not have been surprised. After all, "Panic" is now part of Hong Kong society. Nonetheless, the fact that Yau-wai and his grandmother had to move into a "political safe house" to escape further harassment is a measure of how much Hong Kong has changed, and how our communities have suffered from the endless political fights.

When it comes to granting Yau-wai or anyone else the right of abode, or not, the power of discretion rests not with the court of public opinion but with the director of immigration. At this stage, even if Yau-wai were granted abode - and that's still a big "if" - we can be sure he would not be allowed to live life in peace. The constant threat from the "Panic" mob may make life more unbearable than it was during the nine years he spent hiding from the authorities, unable to seek medical help when ill and only able to be homeschooled by his grandmother.

The even bigger tragedy is that we have allowed "Panic" to take hold of the city, so much so that healthy public discourse is almost impossible, and normal civil society workings have gone astray.

And on International Children's Day today, let us remember that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child calls for children to be protected from abuse or exploitation, to have their privacy protected, as well as their right to education, regardless of their legal status. Let us also remember that society has a duty to provide vulnerable children with an education, adequate health care, and all things fundamental for their survival and development.

The right of abode issue was, is, and will continue to be a bone of contention here. Every system has its abusers. But while we strive to uphold laws and regulations, we cannot disregard our duty for common decency.

A spokesman for the activist group Valiant Frontier said in a radio interview that Hong Kong ought to "kill one to warn the hundred". To use this Chinese proverb to justify acts of vilification based on someone's place of origin is to completely lose our moral compass.

Let us acknowledge that while some may see children like Yau-wai as a "menace to society", some of the views of the "Panic" brigade present even more of a menace and threat to society. Sadly, our children are now born into a society where "Panic" can, in the name of protecting their own interests, surround schools and harass and vilify children.

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