Hong Kong courts

Tensions that gave rise to Occupy still need to be addressed

The recent jailings in the wake of the Mong Kok riot were carried out according to the law not politics, but the episode is far from over and youngsters remain in despair

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 3:39am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 3:39am

The riot that broke out in the busy district of Mong Kok two years ago was widely seen as the aftermath of the 2014 Occupy protests. While the tension has somewhat eased, the social and political ills that gave rise to the city’s worse civil unrest in years still prevail. Unless greater effort is made to address the problems, the lingering sentiment will continue to prevent us from moving forward.

Mixed reactions to the jail term given to Edward Leung Tin-kei for his role in the 2016 riot are an extension of that long-standing divide. For those who see the 27-year-old localist as an instigator of violence, the six-year imprisonment handed out by the High Court on Monday has served both justice and deterrence. But for those impressed by his political ideals, sympathy and sorrow abound.

The violence stemmed from dissatisfaction with hawker control measures in the heart of Kowloon during Lunar New Year, but soon escalated into full-scale clashes involving the police, with fires set in the street and bricks hurled at officers.

Madam Justice Anthea Pang Po-kam, who also jailed two others for seven years and 3 1/ 2 years on Monday, said the riot, carried out by a mob with a bitter desire for revenge, was not something that could be mitigated by one’s political aspirations. Lenient sentencing would send the wrong message that those fed up with the government could resolve matters through violence, she said.

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Against the backdrop of a recent surge in prosecutions against opposition figures for breaches of public order, the outcome is seen by some as a political crackdown by the government. Such views, however, do not do justice to our independent judiciary.

As explained by the chief justice the other day, judges were ruling on points of law even if the cases involved politics.

As far as the expression of opinions is concerned, there are many ways of making oneself heard. In the Mong Kok unrest, those taking part clearly went beyond what is acceptable in our peaceful society.

The episode is far from over, with an appeal under way while prosecutors are also seeking a retrial on another riot charge. How the chapter unfolds depends on whether underlying issues can be addressed. Politically, localism and pro-independence voices have been greatly suppressed under Beijing’s assertive approach over sovereignty.

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But the relations between Beijing and Hong Kong remain tense. We are still nowhere near the implementation of universal suffrage, the very issue that spurred the Occupy protests. Also waiting to be resolved are poverty, housing, education, inequality and social mobility. The young seemingly still feel the despair and helplessness they did a few years ago. The deep-seated problems cannot go unresolved.