Chris Patten’s doublespeak on judges is a sign of how Hong Kong is destroying itself
Michael Chugani says if Hongkongers themselves call their government authoritarian and judges tainted, the world’s media will feel justified in echoing that sentiment. Attacks like the one by the city’s colonial governor only play into the hands of such critics
The unthinkable has happened: two global surveys released last week confirmed it. One downgraded our judicial independence to 13th place globally. The other warned that our rule of law could be headed for a downward spiral.
Who did this to us? Our independent judiciary is what Hongkongers prize most. It is part of our soul. Yet they hacked away at it to score political points. No need to name names. We know who they are. They told the world our judges have become Beijing’s puppets. Let them live with their consciences.
But I will name our last colonial governor, Chris Patten, a man I have great respect for. While here recently, he insisted he never attacked our judges, only Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung. A single reading of his letter to the Financial Times will tell you that’s doublespeak.
It is true Patten never directly criticised our judges. But by indignantly making that clear to the media, was he saying our judiciary is above reproach? If yes, why did he say in his letter that three young activists jailed on appeal by Yuen were persecuted?
Sensible people know it is impossible for a government to persecute those who are tried in open court by independent judges. Yuen can on his own prosecute, but not persecute, Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, and Alex Chow Yong-kang by appealing against their lenient sentences for storming government headquarters.
To persecute, judges would have to be complicit. But it was the judges that Patten says he has high regard for who jailed the three activists. So how could they have been persecuted, as he claimed? He said Yuen’s appeal was a political decision, but then said he doesn’t agree with those who insist the jailed three are political prisoners.
So we have a situation where Yuen made a political decision to persecute three young activists by bringing them before honest judges who jailed them but were not complicit in the persecution; yet the trio were somehow persecuted anyway but are not political prisoners. I am baffled.
If Yuen’s decision to appeal against the lenient sentences of three activists who forcibly entered government headquarters, injuring 10 security guards in the process, was political, wouldn’t it also be a political decision not to appeal?
What makes one political decision wrong and the other right?
There was a time when politics and our rule of law were never mentioned in the same breath. But now, even our judges are accused of colluding with the government. What sense does that make when our judges have jailed policemen for beating up an Occupy protester, jailed a former chief secretary, and are trying a former chief executive?
But nothing makes sense any more in our politics. Last Sunday, National Day, thousands of Hongkongers dressed in black marched against authoritarian rule in Hong Kong.
Would it be too silly to ask if an authoritarian regime would allow thousands to march on National Day against authoritarian rule? Wouldn’t an authoritarian regime have unleashed police goons with batons and tear gas to beat the hell out of the protesters instead of granting a permit for the march?
Perhaps North Korea’s Kim Jong-un can answer that.
When Hongkongers themselves label our government as authoritarian and our judges as tainted, the world’s media will pick that up. They will feel justified in saying Hong Kong is governed by an authoritarian regime which colludes with tainted judges – because we are saying it.
What does it take for us to realise we are destroying ourselves?
Yes, Beijing is tightening its grip on us. It has its reasons for doing that. I don’t necessarily agree with those reasons but trying to destroy ourselves will only further tighten the grip, not loosen it. Patten says he loves Hong Kong. Please prove it without doublespeak.
Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host