One of the most important messages in ensuring the deterrent effect of law enforcement is the idea of “pursuing the criminal to the bitter end”. That is why the ICAC has a wanted-person list, similar to the FBI’s “10 most wanted” list, and has spared no effort in extraditing any corrupt offenders who have absconded overseas, irrespective of where they are and how costly it may take to bring them back.
Now we are starting to witness a worrying trend of the “black-shirts” escaping justice to abscond overseas. The key problems are that most of them are allowed bail after being charged in court, even in the most egregious cases involving the use of explosives and firebombs, and with a minimum amount of cash bail. The most recent cases concern two young offenders, both aged 16, charged with throwing firebombs and committing arson in two separate cases. They were found to have absconded. Their only penalty so far is the forfeiture of their HK$2,000 (US$258) cash bail!
From media reports, we know that the ringleader of the “black-shirts” who stormed the Legislative Council building on July 1, 2019 had escaped to the United States the day after. We also learned that about 300 other fugitives who had also absconded to Taiwan are living a miserable existence as they were “used and dumped” by the Taiwan government. According to the Globe and Mail, the Canadian daily, there are 46 Hongkongers hiding in Canada hoping to obtain political asylum.
So what is the general state of mind of these naive, self-styled anarchists misled into thinking they are fighting for Hong Kong’s future without a real clue as to their endgame? What kind of messages are we giving to these ‘’black-shirts’’ now? First of all, thanks to their general ignorance of our law enforcement expertise, they lulled themselves into thinking that by covering themselves from head to toe with macho-looking, ninja-like black clothing, they would escape identification by the authorities. But the high number of them who were eventually apprehended told a different story. However, the sad reality is that they also stand a good chance of escaping prosecution, thanks to some sympathetic public prosecutors — one even published a book advising on ways to evade police enforcement! So far, over 8,001 persons have been arrested for social unrest offences, but only 1,365 have been charged, and merely 87 have been convicted. In the slim chance they are prosecuted, the lenient judges would grant them minimum bail in most cases. But who would bother to honor a HK$2,000 cash bail and risk five years’ imprisonment, or even a life term? If they are not running off en masse now, it is only because they know they have plenty of time to plan their escape routes up to the last day of their trials. Some even harbor the false hope they will be saved by a foreign power as in the case of Wong Toi-yeung. He is a perfect example of someone who was wrongfully granted bail in his first appearance, but waited many months before traveling to Germany to receive pre-arranged political asylum.
The Hong Kong police should aggressively demonstrate that they will spare no effort in extraditing all absconded criminals to Hong Kong to face justice. In all fugitive cases, warrants of arrest should be obtained in court and their names should be placed on the Interpol Red Notice, which enables all member jurisdictions to effect arrests on sight and alert Hong Kong police to follow cases up. We can follow the FBI’s practice by publishing on the Hong Kong Police Force website a full list of all our wanted persons, with photos and personal details — with reward money in some cases. It should update its list similar to the FBI’s successful 10 Most Wanted Fugitives. The local media and pro-establishment social media groups, such as Speakout.HK and Silent Majority, should assist in promoting this wanted-persons list to push the message that “wherever you hide, we will catch you”!
The most worrying part of the social unrest is the large number of youngsters, so far over 3,000 students have been arrested, with 1,400 below the age of 18. Clearly they have been misled by their rogue teachers, other activists and politicians and they are too young to realize the full consequence of their illegal activities. It’s alarming that quite a few teachers have also been arrested.
I believe the public is entitled to know which schools these 3,000 students and the arrested teachers come from. This is particularly important when the parents are beginning to choose the schools for their children to study either in the primary or secondary level. Hong Kong police should publish a full list of the schools with the number of students and teachers arrested from the respective schools. The purpose of this practice is similar to the list of buildings published by the Health Bureau on suspected cases of coronavirus or the list of teachers involved in sex-related crimes, all to enhance public awareness of such dangers and to encourage schools to tighten their internal discipline so their reputations will not be ruined by some bad apples.
This list is also particularly useful for the Education Bureau to follow up on these schools and to monitor both their teaching staff and teaching material, so as to identify the root cause of the problem and to impose stricter discipline when necessary.
Such lists can go on. Police can also publish a list of the 10 most serious explosive cases discovered so far, and the 10 most violent cases such as the death of an innocent citizen caused by a brick thrown at him and the torching of an innocent citizen by extreme protesters for expressing a different political view. Such lists of different categories of crimes would help to swiftly rebut any foreign criticism of Hong Kong’s suppression of supposed peaceful demonstrations!
Finally, police should also publish a full list of all the court results on the social unrest cases, separating them into those resulting in imprisonment and those which did not. For the former, it will provide a deterrent effect in one go. For the others, it would enable the public to judge whether the sentences are adequate and whether the problem actually lies with any individual judges who continuously hand out very lenient sentences and to hold them accountable!
As the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council pointed out in its statement on Wednesday, commenting on the protest violence, “the sword of the law to demonstrate deterrence did not appear to be here in Hong Kong”. It urged all individuals and institutions with public authority in the city to do their duty to counter the “political virus” of violence. The institutions clearly include the public prosecutors, judges and the Education Bureau, who are apparently not doing enough to display the sword of the law!
The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space and a council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies. He is also former head of operations of the ICAC and retired as its deputy commissioner. He is an active international anti-corruption consultant.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS