Jail for student leaders sets right example to deter violence in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 August, 2017, 4:27pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 August, 2017, 10:31pm

I agree with the prison sentences handed down to the three prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy student leaders by the Court of Appeal last week. The ruling sends a clear message to all – especially those behind the scenes – that violence should not be encouraged in the name of pursuing ideals and exercising freedoms.

When the case was first heard, the magistrate called for leniency, having taken into account the political ideals of the trio – Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Alex Chow Yong-kang and Nathan Law Kwun-chung. Some criticised the appeal court judges for failing to take into account these political motives. However, public interest, and the likely consequences of their acts, override the absence of strong criminal intent.

The three activists, flaunting their civil rights and brandishing the slogan of civil disobedience while trying to gain forcible entry into the government headquarters compound, and urging other protesters to follow suit, showed blatant disregard for the law.

As to whether these three individuals were manipulated by people behind the scenes, and questions of culpability regarding inciting the youths, the court rightly rebuked those who incite others to break the law and feel they can act with impunity.

It is shameful that, even after the sentence was handed down, the three activists showed no regret for their unlawful act. If it is true that civil disobedience entails accepting legal repercussions for your actions, the trio should not have talked about political persecution.

The limits of freedom are being increasingly tested and more youngsters risk overstepping the legal bounds, as evident in the escalation of violence in protests in recent years. As the potential for violence grows, it is only right that the court lays down new sentencing guidelines at this juncture so that cases involving violent unlawful assembly could be judged with greater consistency. Any allegation about collusion between the executive and the judiciary is not only unfounded, but stokes unnecessary fears about Hong Kong’s judicial independence. For stiffer sentences to be handed down, there has to be strong prima facie evidence.

While some lamented the imprisonment of the student leaders and commended their political aspirations, let’s not forget that while we defend our cherished rights and values, there is no freedom without law and order. Any acts that break the cornerstone of our society should be reined in.

Borromeo Li, Tseung Kwan O