Our courts will do more to protect freedoms than the foreign press
The media in the West have been quick to condemn the jailing of three student activists as interference by Beijing, without taking into account solid and reliable legal opinion
Among leading newspapers in major Western countries, Hong Kong’s political struggle has been about fighting against mainland China’s encroachment. The jailing of student leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Alex Chow Yong-kang and Nathan Law Kwun-chung fits this overall narrative perfectly. It means any facts that depart from this narrative or contradict it are either downplayed or ignored completely.
I have been reading The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal in the United States; the Financial Times and The Guardian in Britain; Le Monde in France; and the Globe and Mail in Canada. For foreign newspapers that have been decrying the jailings as the mainland’s threat to the rule of law, they have reported virtually nothing about how local lawyers and former legal officials think about it. There were, of course, the obligatory quotes from the secretary for justice. But when the newspapers quoted so liberally the trio’s supporters, you would think they should at least find out what the legal profession thinks about the case.
No one bothers with the joint statement of the Bar Association and the Law Society – which together represent all the lawyers in Hong Kong – that the Court of Appeal ruling followed proper legal principles and that the three were given due process. There was coverage of the 25 international figures who came to the trio’s defence and called the activists “political prisoners”. Among them were former British foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind, US Congressman Christopher Smith and Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong.
But no one bothered with Bertrand de Speville, our former solicitor general and head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, who merited publishing just a short letter to the editor in the Financial Times.
“Lord Patten describes as ‘deplorable’ the Hong Kong government’s decision to appeal against the non-custodial sentences,” he wrote. “By suggesting that Beijing directly influenced the decision of the secretary of justice, he undermines at a stroke of his pen the rule of law that is a pillar of the free and pluralist way of life the city continues to enjoy.”
Nor did the foreign press bother to quote Grenville Cross, former director of public prosecutions, who has said the initial community service sentences for the trio by a lower court were “clearly wrong” and that our judiciary remains “fiercely independent”.
Too bad, because in the end, the courts will do more to protect our freedoms than the foreign press.