Are Hong Kong courts taking illegal wildlife trade seriously, despite tougher laws?
I refer to the recent seizure by Hong Kong customs officers of smuggled rhino horn and ivory, as well as dried shark fin and seahorse.
I believe everyone accepts that Hong Kong is a transit point for illegal wildlife trade. And the fact that, on May 1, penalties for offences under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, Cap 586, were increased to a maximum fine of HK$10 million (US$1.3 million) and imprisonment for 10 years suggests that the government accepts this too.
Unfortunately, our courts are not taking wildlife crime seriously. In one of the cases, 5.9kg of rhino horn and 410 grams of worked ivory worth a total of HK$1.2 million were seized from an arriving passenger at the airport. Yet, when the case went to court, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to only two months’ imprisonment.
If our courts don’t support the law enforcement effort and hand down deterrent sentences, Hong Kong will remain a transit point for illegal wildlife trade, threatening both the endangered species and Hong Kong’s reputation as an international city.
Kevin Laurie, Discovery Bay
City’s reputation on wildlife trade is a disgrace
Hong Kong has a reputation for being a transit point for illegal wildlife trade, and everything that the government does – from delaying laws to stop the sale of ivory to lax enforcement of existing ones – enhances that reputation. Hong Kong is a disgrace in this matter, when it should be leading the protection of endangered species around the world.
Darren Catterall, Central
Lenient sentence undermines effort to tackle smuggling
Last month, Hong Kong raised the maximum penalty for trade in species listed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to 10 years’ imprisonment. Wildlife crimes are now regarded as indictable offences and may be tried in the district and high courts of Hong Kong.
Last week, the prosecution chose to try a man who smuggled 5.9kg of rhino horn, a CITES Appendix 1 listed species, in the magistrates’ court, where the maximum penalty is just two years’ imprisonment. The defendant was sentenced to only two months in jail.
This is hardly a deterrent and I can’t understand why it seems that, regardless of the increase in maximum penalty, offenders are being sentenced based on precedent set prior to that increase.
Why was the case not transferred to the District Court or the High Court, where the higher penalties available under the amendments to the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, Cap 586, could have been invoked? The choice to prosecute in the magistracy has made a mockery of the amendment, which took effect on May 1.
How many critically endangered animals need to die before Hong Kong authorities start to take the protection of endangered species and the prosecution of those who contravene the wildlife laws seriously? There was a real chance here for the government to set an example in wildlife protection.
Karina O’Carroll, Sai Kung