Chris Patten’s claims don’t stand up to scrutiny

Hong Kong’s last British governor claims that the use of the Public Order Ordinance in the case against Edward Leung Tin-kei for his part in the 2016 Mong Kok riot directly contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. But his claims can be legitimately challenged

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 July, 2018, 3:09am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 July, 2018, 3:09am

Once again, our last British governor, Chris Patten, has joined the local political fray.

His latest effort is contained in a statement published in several local newspapers and websites, including this one. The trigger was the conviction for rioting and heavy sentence of localist politician Edward Leung Tin-kei for his part in the 2016 Mong Kok riot.

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However, the main focus was on, in Patten’s own words, “the existence and use in this case of the Public Order Ordinance, which is a direct contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Hong Kong government is allegedly committed under the Basic Law”.

Every clause in this sentence can be legitimately challenged. It’s true the covenant provides protection for public meetings, processions and gatherings, demonstrations and protests, all of which can, to different degrees, be restricted or curtailed under the local ordinance.

But as a principle stated in the covenant, those same rights may be “subject to certain restrictions” and “prescribed by law … to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others”.

At least three articles in the covenant stipulate that the freedoms of thought (Article 18), holding any opinion (Article 19) and assembly (Article 21) may be so restricted by law such as the ordinance in question.

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Clearly, the application of local law restricting those rights does not necessarily violate the covenant.

Patten further states that the law on “disorder in public places or unlawful assembly … may facilitate excessive restrictions to the covenant rights”. But which case or cases was he thinking of?

In Leung’s, it was irrelevant. Leung was tried and convicted by a jury on rioting charges, not public disorder or unlawful assembly.

Call the Mong Kok incident whatever you like, its levels of violence and injury to persons, mostly police officers, clearly justified judicial and prosecutorial intervention in the application of the ordinance.

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Patten also argues our prosecutors are abusing the ordinance against political dissidents. For argument’s sake, assuming he is right, it would only work if judges and juries such as those in Leung’s case are also tainted or not doing their job.

The jury in Leung’s case took three days to reach a decision, an indication that they were trying to perform their duty. Patten is free to attack our officials and prosecutors, but it’s only fair he acknowledges our judiciary.