More than 33,000 police officers rallied in support of 7 convicted officers
Two years ago, when Superintendent Franklin Chu patrolled Mong Kok, I was there to bear witness of a historical moment in Hong Kong (see above photo which I took). That was when the story began. Last night, more than 33,000 police officers rallied in support of the 7 police officers sentenced to 2 years imprisonment upon conviction of assaulting protester Ken Tsang during the Occupy protests. Tsang was cuffed and carried to a dark corner and was assaulted for 4 minutes. He was also assaulted at the police station.
Judge Dufton became subject to racist attacks by pro-police supporters
Judge David Dufton held that “The defendants damaged Hong Kong’s reputation in the international community… There was no justification to take Tsang to the substation for the assault.” The British-born judge was called a “dog.” The Judge, along with other non-ethnic Chinese judges, were called “foreigners who mess up Hong Kong.” A legislator even attacked the Judge for having “white skin with yellow heart.” (Would Donald Tsang qualify as “yellow skin with white heart” for serving his colonial masters then?)
Racist attacks on judge show how much our society has fractured
The attacks on Judge Dufton has shown deep racism and fractures ingrained within our community. The attacks show distrust for the judicial system in upholding justice. Since the sentencing of the 7 police officers, many have asked me whether the 2 year sentence was too “harsh.” I was quick to reply that this was a matter of law. The maximum sentence for “assault causing actual bodily harm” was 3 years, which was also a starting point for a “serious assault.” The question is whether the assault here is “serious.”
The “seriousness” of the assault by the 7 police officers
Handing down the sentence, Judge Dufton said, “The defendants damaged Hong Kong’s reputation in the international community… There was no justification to take Tsang to the substation for the assault.” He said the court needed to “make an example” out of it to ensure that no officers would attempt to commit the offence in the future. For the learned Judge, a police officer’s job was to stop others from breaking the law. Knowing the law and breaking it was an extremely serious matter.
The real issue for many police supporters is that the officers were provoked
The first issue, for many people critical of the Judge, is that the he should have taken into account that the officers were provoked by Tsang as mitigating factors. However, if we look at many overseas jurisdictions including the U.K., judges have held that police officers should have thick skin and maintain self-restrain, even when being provoked by protesters. Except for self-defence, there is no excuse for using excessive force. As a matter of policy, the police should not be any more entitled to use force that is beyond reasonable.
Attacks on Judge Dufton shows deep public distrust for the common law
The next issue then is whether judicial decisions from other jurisdictions calling the police for restraint should be followed in Hong Kong. The attacks on Judge Dufton overwhelming suggests that many pro-police demonstrators do not wish for the continuation of Hong Kong’s common law traditions. Few days ago, a price was put on Judge Dufton’s head. Son of Major General Cai Changyuan of the People’s Liberation Army proclaimed on Weibo, “I’m willing to give 10,000 yuan to anyone who beats up British ‘judge’ David Dufton.”
The ongoing “pro-police” vs. “pro-democracy” demonstrations highlight the fragmentation in the current state of our society. Whether the sentence for the 7 officers was “correct” is no longer a matter of law. It is a clash between the city’s common law traditions and overwhelmingly civil law influences from mainland China. Whilst pro-democracy protesters seek refuge in Western-style separation of powers, pro-police supporters call for stronger police presence in maintaining public order, even if we would need to sacrifice some of our individual freedoms. There is no right and wrong answer – only where our society should be going.