‘An inquiry into the Mong Kok riot would only create a new battleground’: former Central Policy Unit chief compares Star Ferry and Hong Kong riots
Ex-Central Policy Unit head Lau Siu-kai describes government as wary of fuelling social conflicts, but professor contends term ‘riot’ is too much
The Hong Kong government rejected a call for an independent inquiry into the Mong Kok riot because it was worried the process could open a Pandora’s box and fuel conflicts in society, a former top government adviser stated yesterday.
Lau Siu-kai, former head of the Central Policy Unit, said the Leung Chun-ying administration was in a weak position and might not be able to manage the situation were an inquiry into the mayhem launched.
His remarks came as Professor Stephen Chiu Wing-kai, Chinese University of Hong Kong sociologist, said the government was trying to influence public perception by using the label “riot” to describe the unrest that erupted on the night of February 8. He claimed the violence was not as serious as the riots of 1966 and 1967.
READ MORE: Former Hong Kong security chief condemns young ‘beasts’ of Mong Kok riot as losing ‘their sense of reason’
In the wake of the Star Ferry riots in 1966, the colonial government appointed a commission of inquiry, chaired by then chief justice Michael Hogan, to look into the causes of the disturbances.
The disturbance was triggered by a fare rise of five cents for the boat ride between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui.
During that mayhem spanning April 5 to April 9, 1966, mobs threw stones at riot police, looted shops and set fire to buses and various public facilities, including fire stations.
A total of 1,465 persons was arrested, 905 of whom were charged with breach of curfew and other offences.
The commission, which described the unrest as the “Kowloon disturbances” in its report released in 1967, suggested that the evidence relating to the outbreak of disturbances indicated a gap in perceptions between the government and the people.
A larger-scale riot erupted the following year, with violence claiming 51 lives, 15 in bomb attacks. But the colonial government characterised the unrest as “disturbances” and a “communist-initiated confrontation”.
Chiu said what happened in Mong Kok last week was not as serious as the disturbances in 1966 and 1967, nor was it as grave as the 2011 London riot in which five people died and 202 were injured.
In the Mong Kok unrest, about 130 people, including 90 police officers, were injured.
“I agree that the use of the label ‘riot’ carries a negative connotation and certainly the government was trying to set the tone of public discussion here,” Chiu said. The term ‘disturbance” sounds more neutral” and is the term the professor said he used to describe the event.
Leung Chun-ying said yesterday the truth behind how and why the street violence happened in Mong Kok last week would be revealed by a police investigation and court hearings.
Leung’s remarks came a day after the government officially rejected calls by hundreds of academics and professionals for an independent committee to identify the causes of the riot.
READ MORE: ‘Conflict of interest’: Mong Kok riot probe likely to be led by director of police operation
Lau, who serves as vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Chinese and Macau Studies, said the colonial government that launched an independent inquiry into the disturbances in 1966 was able to bring the turbulent situation it faced under control.
“Given the growing conflicts and polarisation in Hong Kong, an inquiry into the Mong Kok riot would only create a new battleground,” he said.
Chiu said an inquiry would direct public attention to deep-rooted conflicts in society as the government felt it had made the correct verdict.
“In the eyes of the government, it would be a distraction that they won’t want to see,” he added.
Basic Law Committee member Rao Geping stated it was in the city’s “tradition” to set up committees of inquiry after certain high-profile incidents.
”For the Mong Kok incident, it’s necessary to probe the facts and prosecute those who broke the law,” he said.
Rao later clarified that he was not talking about the inquiry commission that the government refused to appoint.
Mong Kok riot of 2016
Number of people arrested: 69
Number of people injured: about 130, including 90 police officers
Star Ferry riot of 1966
Number of fatalities: 1
Number of people injured: 26
Number of people arrested: 1,465 (of whom 905 were charged with breach
of curfew and other offences)
Hong Kong riots of 1967
Number of fatalities: 51, including 15 in bomb attacks
Number of people injured: 832
Number of people convicted: 1,936
London riot of 2011
Number of fatalities: 5
Number of people injured: 202, including 186 police officers
Number of people arrested: nearly 4,000
Ferguson riots (Missouri, USA) of 2014 and 2015
Number of people injured: 16, including six police officers
Number of people arrested: 321