In many political organizations, those who mess up are shown the door, or at least reprimanded, particularly if reputational damage has resulted. There are, however, exceptions, as with the London-based think tank, Hong Kong Watch. Although its chairman and co-founder, Benedict Rogers, was left with egg all over his face last month, after the United Kingdom’s Fforeign Ooffice repudiated his inflammatory assertions that the Hong Kong Police Force had acted improperly, and in defiance of “diplomatic protocols”, by arresting a protester outside its Consulate-General in Central, he carried on regardless.
Instead of resigning, or at least apologizing to those he had slandered and misled, Rogers simply pretended nothing had happened. Quite clearly, he is prepared to use Hong Kong Watch as a platform for fake news about China, no matter how fantastical.
His latest brainchild is the “Paddy Ashdown Memorial Lecture”, which he invited the former governor, Chris Patten, to deliver, on February 3. The late Paddy Ashdown, although in many ways an estimable figure, naively bought in to Patten’s anti-China narrative, and was accordingly signed up by Rogers as a Hong Kong Watch patron after its launch in December 2017.
Shortly thereafter, in January 2018, Ashdown duly repaid Rogers, by producing a report entitled “Hong Kong 20 years on: Rights and Autonomy Under Fire”, which the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, denounced as “unfounded and unfair”. She was right to do so, as it was deeply flawed, and riddled with the type of distortions for which Hong Kong Watch has since become renowned. Ashdown claimed, firstly, that the three activists convicted of a violent unlawful assembly at the start of Occupy Central were “political prisoners”, despite their having had a fair trial, and, secondly, that the independence of the Department of Justice was “in doubt”, for which he produced no evidence, and, thirdly, that the prosecution’s right to seek a review of an unduly lenient sentence offended “a fundamental principle of justice”, even though the UK, like other common law jurisdictions, operates an identical procedure.
Quite clearly, he (Benedict Rogers) is prepared to use Hong Kong Watch as a platform for fake news about China, no matter how fantastical
With Ashdown’s demise, Rogers has now turned to Patten, and he has not disappointed. In his lecture, he provided Rogers with enough bile, distortion and prejudice to keep Hong Kong Watch going for the next year. Patten, of course, has form for traducing our legal system. In 2017, for example, when the three activists were imprisoned by the Court of Appeal, for a crime which left ten victims injured, Patten sprang to their defence, infamously accusing the government of a “deplorable decision”.
Even though the decision to imprison the lawbreakers was taken by three experienced judges, and hwas nothing to do with the government, Patten told the Financial Times that it was an example of “Beijing tightening its grip on Hong Kong’s aspirations to remain a free society”. This, of course, was absurd, as Hong Kong’s judiciary is, as he well knows, fiercely independent, and comprises men and women of the highest integrity. Indeed, the Bar Association and the Law Society issued a joint rebuttal of Patten, explaining that court rulings in Hong Kong are made “solely according to law”. A striking feature of Patten’s intervention, moreover, was its concern for the three lawbreakers, and its complete disregard of their ten victims, one of whom was off work for 39 days because of his injuries.
In his lecture, Patten adopted a scatter-gun approach, firing at everything in sight. As a mischief-maker par excellence, he announced that he was “surprised and saddened” to see that legislation to combat subversion is now being proposed. Of course, as he knows, Hong Kong is legally required by the Basic Law’s Art.23 to enact a national security law, proscribing such things as subversion and secession, and, nearly 23 years after reunification, this duty cannot be shirked any longer. Indeed, after violent protesters have spent months engaging in openly subversive activity, and pursuing an unashamedly independence agenda, there is now a crying need for effective laws to protect the nation from their activities.
Patten, moreover, in a fresh challenge to the rule of law, called for consideration to be given to “the use of amnesties covering both immunities from prosecution and pardons for some who have been convicted during the civil conflicts”. Although he purported to exclude those accused of violence from his proposal, he claimed that it had “been done before”, which is incorrect. In his eagerness to pander to Hong Kong malcontents, he has disregarded what actually happened in 1977, although, to be fair, his local proxies, particularly if they came from the Civic Party, may have misled him.
Although the then governor, Sir Murray Maclehose, was forced by a police mutiny to order the ICAC to discontinue many of its investigations in 1977, this is not a precedent, as Patten thinks, as he was not a free agent, and was coerced in shocking circumstances. This, fortunately, could not happen again, as the Basic Law now provides constitutional protections, stipulating that the Department of Justice “shall control criminal prosecutions, free from any interference” (Art.63), and that the ICAC “shall function independently” (Art.58). Since Art.48(2) requires the Chief Executive to implement the Basic law, any attempt to interfere with ongoing cases, as Patten proposes, would, therefore, be unconstitutional.
Although, moreover, Art.48(12) certainly enables the Chief Executive to “pardon persons convicted of criminal offences or commute their sentences”, the circumstances in which this power is exercisable are rare. They must have a legitimate basis, as where someone is dying, or has assisted the authorities to combat crime, or has shown exceptional bravery. They cannot, as Patten assumes, simply be handed out willy-nilly, for political reasons, such as appeasement of radical elements. If this happened, therefore, the decision would not only be irregular, it would also be judicially reviewable, by victims and other concerned parties, for having been taken in bad faith.
Patten, moreover, parroting the protesters’ demands, called for a “proper independent public inquiry”, claiming a “transparent accounting” is required to “restore public faith in the police”. This, of course, is music to the ears of the protest movement, which hopes to use such an inquiry to malign courageous police officers and undermine their morale. For over seven months, as decent citizens know, the police force has, with professionalism and restraint, bravely upheld law and order, withstood violent attacks, and defended life and property, for which Patten gives them little credit, and we can now see why.
In a separate, but related development, Hong Kong Watch patron Alan Carmichael, a lawmaker who chairs the British Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong, has called on the UK Government to raise with the United Nations alleged human rights abuses committed by the Hong Kong Police Force. It is, therefore, now clear that this sinister troika, of Patten, Carmichael and Rogers, are in cahoots, pursuing, in different ways on different fronts, a strategy designed to damage this fine body of men and women, which is exactly what the protest movement wants, and they must now be called out by all right-thinking people who truly care for Hong Kong.
Although, by his remarks, Patten will have endeared himself to Hong Kong Watch, he has demonstrated, yet again, that he is untrustworthy, with nothing to offer Hong Kong.
The author is a senior counsel, law professor and criminal justice analyst, and was previously the director of public prosecutions.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS