Chris Patten is concerned for Hong Kong freedoms, but must reckon with the rights record of the British Empire
I refer to Chris Patten’s letter dated June 27, wherein he criticised the use of the Public Order Ordinance to imprison young activist Edward Leung Tin-kei (“Chris Patten: Hong Kong should not use public order law to curb freedoms”).
Patten had earlier criticised then justice secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung for having sought a judicial review on student activists. Patten again spoke up when Edward Leung was sentenced, saying this was in direct contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In both the above instances, the student activists had crossed the line: participated in activities that could have resulted in deaths. Hong Kong, even today, is a safe society, one where people value elements of peace and order. No matter what their personal beliefs or what they claim to stand for, society and the judiciary cannot and should not condone acts which contravene peace and order in society.
Admittedly, the student activists were purportedly doing this for democracy in Hong Kong, but history has stood witness to the fact that violence as a means to an end results in too much collateral damage.
Speaking of history, the Public Order Ordinance, the usage of which is condemned in his letter, was instated by the British government during the riots of 1967.
In 1979, when the Yau Ma Tei boatpeople, along with social workers, planned a peaceful protest next to Government House to put forth their request for public housing entitlement, a number of these protesters were arrested and charged under the very same ordinance.
In the history of my own country of origin, India, are recorded numerous instances of the colonial British having used violence against peaceful protesters.
One of the major legacies of the British Empire has been to put a body of laws in place to curb civil liberties in places they colonise. These are designed to prevent public assembly, restrict free speech and have provisions to charge or try people for sedition. These laws were laid down to help the colonial overlords establish a system of “rule by law” rather than “rule of law”.
While it is true that Patten was responsible for amendments to the Public Order Ordinance, it is also undeniably true that he is part of an empire, an administration that has a long history of colonising and ruling other parts of the world, many a time ruthlessly.
Suffice to say, people who live in glass houses should refrain from throwing stones.
Gauri Venkitaraman, Laguna City