My Take

A crime is a crime so singling out certain nationalities goes against natural justice and common sense

Hong Kong wants to crack down on human trafficking, but targeting just eight countries in particular smacks of racism

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2016, 11:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2016, 8:36pm

Imposing tougher sentences on snakeheads smuggling people into our cities is not racist, as some critics have alleged. But the way the government goes about it is both boneheaded and lazy.

Speaking in the legislature this week, security chief Lai Tung-kwok said an amendment was urgently needed to quadruple the maximum jail terms for sneaking people into Hong Kong from eight countries – Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Afghanistan and Nigeria – to 14 years.

But why single out those countries? India, for example, has already signalled its displeasure. Why not impose tough sentences on all smugglers, regardless of race or the country involved?

The government is inexplicably keeping up with a legal tradition from the colonial era. And I thought we were turning our backs on the Brits!

Under the current law dating back to 1979, snakeheads smuggling people from the mainland, Vietnam or Macau face up to 14 years in prison and a fine of up to HK$5 million. Those caught smuggling migrants of other nationalities face a lesser charge, which carries a three-year sentence and HK$25,000 fine.

According to Lai, the amendment will cover more than 99 per cent of source countries of illegal immigrants currently in the city.

But why continue the British tradition of listing countries, when both natural justice and common sense say smuggling people from Afghanistan should be as much a criminal act as from, say, the United States?

Here, we get to the “lazy” part. Lai says tougher penalties will deter smugglers. He probably thinks singling out their countries of origin will put those smugglers on notice.

But I think it’s fair to say that local law enforcement is happy to intercept rather than investigate. Officers are happy to arrest snakeheads to make news headlines, but have done little to work with their counterparts in those source countries to go after the real bosses.

Commenting in a drug case recently, High Court judge Kevin Zervos warned local law enforcement agencies that dealing with drug trafficking “does not simply rest on the drug mules”. He said the forces of law and order must target the “major miscreants behind the drug trade” because “they are the evil ones”.

His criticism surely extends to human trafficking, too.