Mong Kok riot

After the Mong Kok riot, it’s time to hit Hong Kong’s radicalised youth hard to show them crime doesn’t pay

Tony Kwok says the Hong Kong police were highly restrained in handling the violence in Mong Kok, but we now need to demonstrate very clearly that a repeat of such events will not be tolerated – and that must start with swift prosecutions of all involved

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 February, 2016, 1:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 February, 2016, 1:25pm

Having devoted my entire career to law enforcement, I found it all the more heartbreaking to watch on TV the scenes in Mong Kok where rioters rushed forward to attack a policeman who was already injured and lying on the ground. Rubbing salt into the wound were the comments from pan-democrat scholars who, instead of condemning the riots, lay the blame on the government, claiming officials had failed to address the grievances of the young. They and some of the media also made a big issue about a policeman firing warning shots to try to rescue other officers. Their only motive is to mislead and incite Hong Kong people. They will be proved to be the “sinners” in Hong Kong history.

READ MORE: Housing, employment, education problems led Hong Kong youth to ‘resort to violence’, says Regina Ip, as others propose a water cannon for riot control

The police behaved most courageously and were highly restrained in handling the riot. When they were confronted with rioters hurling bricks and glass bottles at them, which could surely cause serious injury, their response was to use batons and pepper spray to fend off the attacks.

In the US and Europe, when facing a similar situation, the police would have no hesitation to use tear gas, rubber bullets or water cannon and immediately make mass arrests. Perhaps our police are too restrained!

Young people in Hong Kong no longer believe they need to be responsible for their actions

I believe one of the main causes of the riot is that young people in Hong Kong no longer believe they need to be responsible for their actions. From Occupy Central, they see many people avoiding prosecution – and even among the minority who were prosecuted, many received extremely light sentences.

All this has encouraged radical young men and women to act irresponsibly with no regard for the law and consequences. They believed they were heroes throwing bricks and attacking the police. Actually, they were cowards hiding behind their masks.

Hong Kong now needs to demonstrate very clearly that “crime doesn’t pay”. The commissioner of police must make a public pledge to arrest all rioters, without exception, within a short period of time. He should announce the setting up of an investigation task force to demonstrate its importance.

The police investigation should cover what and who was behind the riot. It has been suggested that the riots were well organised, with vans carrying self-made weapons, shields, goggles, helmets and even gloves to the scene for rioters’ use.

One group of rioters is known to actively campaign for Hong Kong independence. Was there any foreign government involvement, too?

One group of rioters actively campaign for Hong Kong independence. Was there any foreign government involvement too?

We can use the internet to help identify the rioters. The police could consider putting every face photographed at the scene on a “wanted” list and appeal for assistance to discover their real identity.

Many of the Occupy Central cases were only prosecuted many months later. This did not send the right message of deterrence. This time, the director of public prosecutions should work closely with the police investigators to act quickly. When cases are in the courts, prosecutors should strongly object to bail being granted, to avoid a repeat of the violence.

The judiciary must remain impartial. A special court should be set up with selected judges to hear these cases, with a clear requirement that they should declare any possible conflict of interest before the hearings. The Court of Final Appeal could consider issuing sentencing guidelines, similar to what happens in corruption cases. An immediate custodial sentence of 12 months minimum would be appropriate for those convicted in cases related to the riots.

It should not come as a surprise that some of the rioters are radical university students. The heads of all universities should publish a joint public statement condemning the riots and pledge to suspend any students found to have taken part.

READ MORE: Legco election candidates line up to condemn Mong Kok violence amid calls for an explanation from Hong Kong Indigenous

Ordinary citizens should stop being the silent majority and, instead, raise their voices to condemn the riot and show support for the police. And they should also vote out the pan-democrat and localist candidates in the upcoming Legislative Council New Territories East by-election at the end of this month.

Tony Kwok is former deputy commissioner of the ICAC and currently an honorary fellow and adjunct professor of HKU SPACE and an international anti-corruption consultant