Mong Kok riot

History repeated – Mong Kok riot similar to deadly Hong Kong unrest of 1966, says former top policeman

Trouble in both instances was instigated by disillusioned young people, he points out

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 February, 2016, 9:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 February, 2016, 10:31pm

The mayhem on Monday night was reminiscent of the 1966 riots in Hong Kong, said a former senior policeman who witnessed the deadly unrest 50 years ago.

“The Mong Kok riot and the chain of events that led to the turmoil in 1966 had many things in common,” said James Elms, a police inspector in the 1960s who retired in 1996 as a senior superintendent.

He noted that both incidents were characterised by mass participation of young people, who mostly responded to their peers’ call for action. They were similarly disappointed at government policy as well as the political system at the time in which they lived, the 72-year-old said.

“The young people might not have the same objectives from the outset but they all took the same action later,” said Elms, citing another resemblance across the generations.

He believed at least some of the attacks this week were premeditated, as was the case five decades ago.

READ MORE: Lessons from 1966

The riot in the 1966, triggered by the colonial government’s decision to increase ferry fares, resulted in one death and the arrest of more than 1,800 people. Unrest a year later, stemming from mounting tensions between the colonial government and leftists, caused greater casualties and claimed 51 lives. Some 1,936 people were convicted for offences committed during the 1967 riots.

Chaos of such severity remained uncommon in the city in the ensuing years, but the anti-riot provisions of the Public Order Ordinance used against people nabbed after the Mong Kok riot have been applied at times.

More than 20 inmates were convicted under the law and jailed for taking part in a riot at the Hei Ling Chau Addiction Treatment Centre in June 2000.

According to the ordinance, an unlawful assembly is a riot when a participant commits “a breach of the peace”. The offence carries a maximum jail term of 10 years.

The United Kingdom and Australia have comparable anti-riot laws. While a person guilty of riot is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years in the UK, the maximum in New South Wales is 15 years.

Law scholars and authoritative legal texts note that, for conviction, there must be proof of unlawful assembly and of violence or the threat of violence by rioters.