Face Off: Should Hong Kong enact a law banning insults against the police?

Helen Wong (JR)

Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week’s topic is ...

Helen Wong (JR) |

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Helen Wong, 16, Dallam School, Britain

The Hong Kong police force has always tried to maintain stability by safeguarding citizens. It has made Hong Kong one of the safest cities in the world. However, a series of incidents in recent years have sparked tension between the police and the public.

If insulting officers is banned, then the authority of the police would be re-established, and they would be able to enforce laws more effectively. Police are doing their best but there are people who abuse their rights and attack officers, both verbally or physically. Such behaviour has forced police to use things like pepper spray to control crowds. A law prohibiting offensive behaviour would help officers do this.

The actions of some protesters, like screaming insults or pouring liquid – possibly pee – on the police, should not be tolerated. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all humans are “equal in dignity and rights”. The police aren’t an exception to this rule. Just because they are responsible for enforcing laws doesn’t mean that they deserve to be insulted when carrying out their duties. A law against insulting the police would give officers some form of protection, and reduce the chances of them being deliberately provoked. That means it could prevent another case like the one involving the seven officers who were jailed for assaulting a protester during the Occupy Central movement.

Free-speech campaigners might argue that such a law takes away personal freedoms and could tarnish the city’s image. But freedom of expression should not be confused with allowing blatant challenges to the police.

Hopefully, the new law would help define what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t, and help strike a balance between upholding our rights and the rights of the police not to be harassed by the public.

The police should be allowed to protect their dignity while enforcing the law; on the other hand, the public should have the right to express their opinions freely without insulting the police or resorting to violence.

Snehaa Senthamilselvan Easwari, 16, Li Po Chun United World College

What makes Hong Kong’s police force special? It’s their ability to connect with Hongkongers and gain their trust. This is lacking in many other countries where there is tension between the police and the people. I realise that it can be hard to draw a line between respect and the right to criticise, but freedom of speech is a basic human right that the police should recognise and appreciate.

Last month, seven policemen were found guilty of assaulting pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu during the Occupy Central protests in 2014. This case has sparked calls to make insulting police officers a crime.

I have two questions: First, will the government listen to the public when introducing such a law? And second, will the police protect the city’s citizens and uphold law and order? I’m not sure. Many people feel that the government used the police to ruthlessly suppress the Occupy Central protests. At the time, people had to make their voices heard; there was no other way in which they could let the government know their feelings.

Yes, sometimes protesters will use bad words to express their opinions about the government, but that’s freedom of speech and expression. We can’t criminalise a basic human right like that. If we do, then I worry that Hong Kong might become a police state.

The proposed law would only increase tension between the police and the public. The police already have guidelines on how to deal with verbal abuse, so there’s no need for a new law. The people are already in a more vulnerable position than the police, so we don’t need legislation to make that even clearer. Where do we draw the line between expressing discontent and insulting the police? Officers could end up abusing the law to get rid of people they find annoying but who aren’t actually insulting them at all.

We don’t live in the Qing dynasty anymore; we don’t have to bend to the will of the powers-that-be. Freedom is one of our core values, and the proposed law would take away a key aspect of it, namely freedom of speech and expression.

Edited by Ginny Wong