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Saturday, January 04, 2020, 09:33
Hong Kong Watch: An enemy of Hong Kong
By Grenville Cross
Saturday, January 04, 2020, 09:33 By Grenville Cross

Fake news is always an insidious type of propaganda, and its purveyors pose a real danger, even in stable societies. 

When Benedict Rogers, a self-appointed “human rights activist”, was denied entry into Hong Kong in 2017, there was concern in some quarters. As is customary in such situations, no reason was given for his exclusion. However, some people recalled his close association with the criminals who had been convicted of involvement in a violent unlawful assembly at the start of “Occupy Central” in 2014. Although the incident had left nine security guards injured, Rogers had described the principal offenders as his “heroes”, and he even feted them, and their allies, when they visited the United Kingdom. 

Thereafter, in late 2017, Rogers established Hong Kong Watch, a London-based think tank which, while proclaiming objectivity, morphed almost immediately into something altogether more sinister. It quickly established close ties with the anti-China movement, and demonstrated a degree of bias which took observers by surprise. 

Rogers duly enlisted the support of various China bashers, including the former Hong Kong governor, Chris Patten, but also the likes of David Alton, a backwoodsman from Britain’s House of Lords, who has taken to pontificating, in a partisan way, upon Hong Kong affairs. Ever since, Rogers, his judgment apparently warped by feelings of revenge, has used his think tank to malign the Hong Kong government and its police force, and to whitewash the activities of anyone in the city who breaks the law in the name of political protest, no matter how grave their excesses. 

Any doubts over the propriety of banning Rogers have long since been laid to rest. He has churned out fallacies about the situation in Hong Kong at every opportunity, and turned Hong Kong Watch into a platform for anyone who wishes to blacken Hong Kong or malign China. He eschews even the most elementary fact-checking, and buys in to every piece of anti-government propaganda, no matter how absurd. Over the holiday period, however, he went into overdrive.

Anyone, moreover, who spreads fake news about the police force, and its efforts to protect Hong Kong and uphold the rule of law, hoping thereby to weaken law and order, must be exposed at every opportunity. After all, actions have consequences, which may include defamation proceedings. Those who spread lies and myths are, like those who pursue violence, beyond the pale, and must be held accountable in every possible way

Although there were hopes that, during the festive season, the black-clad thugs would spare Hong Kong from yet further violence, these, unfortunately, were short-lived. Apart from terrorizing people in the malls and smashing up businesses and restaurants, they attacked bank premises, vandalized MTR stations and assaulted police officers. Once again, they displayed their hatred of mainland Chinese, this time by targeting a mall in Sheung Shui, popular with visiting shoppers and tourists. 

These thugs, however, did not have everything their own way. Yet again, our dedicated police force, inspired by their new commissioner, Chris Tang Ping-Keung, came to the rescue, and bravely confronted them at every turn. Disregarding their own safety, they did all they could to protect the public from their hate-filled antics. In this, however, they received scant support from the likes of Rogers, Patten or Alton. 

Although the depredations of the black-clad mobs obviously cried out for condemnation, particularly from anyone who values basic decency, human rights and the rule of law, Rogers, and his ilk, kept quiet. Instead, he chose perversely to traduce the police for their valiant efforts to contain the violence on Christmas Eve, which was the very night the thugs vandalized the HSBC branch in Nathan Road, blockaded roads, smashed 21 sets of traffic lights in Mong Kok, assaulted innocent members of the public, and attacked police officers with petrol bombs. 

Although Rogers’ assessment beggars belief, he proclaimed, apparently with a straight face, that there had been “truly outrageous police brutality” on Christmas Eve, with “peaceful shoppers and protesters” having been attacked. He wholly disregarded the activities of the black-clad thugs, whose violence had ruined Christmas for so many people, and whose actions triggered the measured police response. This nonsense, quite apart from leaving Rogers’ own credibility in tatters, also exposed the innate hypocrisy of his Hong Kong Watch, one of whose objectives is, paradoxically, the promotion of “the rule of law”.  

Having clearly lost all touch with reality, Rogers even suggested that “an international, independent inquiry should be urgently established”, with “targeted Magnitsky sanctions” being implemented against Hong Kong officials and police officers. Even for a fantasist of his stature, such calls were patently absurd.  

However, the real concern must be that people in the UK may be hoodwinked by this type of trash. After all, Rogers claims to have the ear of British parliamentarians, government officials and media organizations, some of whom are always on the lookout for anti-China stories, true or not. There is, unfortunately, a ready audience for the type of prejudiced commentary which Hong Kong Watch has made its forte, and it is to this constituency that Rogers now eagerly panders. 

In reality, the police force, as it has done ever since the black-clad thugs first declared war on society last June, has behaved with great courage, huge professionalism and vast restraint in the face of sustained violence. On Christmas Eve, and throughout the holiday period, its officers deployed impeccable tactics, combined with minimum force, in combating the mobs, and their very success clearly infuriated their detractors. They obviously deserve full praise, and require every protection from the vile falsehoods being shamelessly peddled by Hong Kong Watch and its allies. 

Since Rogers has repeatedly demonstrated hostility toward Hong Kong, his exclusion was obviously warranted, but his associates also deserve no less. In particular, Patten, who has done so much harm by recklessly whipping up false concerns in Hong Kong, and has even slandered our legal system, is certainly more dangerous than Rogers, and even more of an undesirable. Although a political lightweight, Alton is also no friend of Hong Kong, and periodically regurgitates whatever fallacies he is fed by troublemakers in Hong Kong, whom he encourages on his occasional flying visits. Anyone who spends their time propagating falsehoods about the city and trying to damage it, including those in the United States, must, in accordance with international practice, expect to have the door slammed in their face whenever they seek entry. 

As the violence continues into 2020, the support provided to the police force must be maximized in every conceivable way. For their part, prosecutors should, wherever possible, maximize the number of charges they bring against those involved in protest-related violence, to demonstrate their utter abhorrence of such criminality. Once offenders are convicted, the duty of the courts will be to maximize the sentences they impose, thus punishing those responsible for the mayhem they have caused and removing them from circulation for as long as possible. 

Anyone, moreover, who spreads fake news about the police force, and its efforts to protect Hong Kong and uphold the rule of law, hoping thereby to weaken law and order, must be exposed at every opportunity. After all, actions have consequences, which may include defamation proceedings. Those who spread lies and myths are, like those who pursue violence, beyond the pale, and must be held accountable in every possible way. 

As the new year begins, people of goodwill who value decency, human rights and the rule of law must begin their fight back. The time for turning the other cheek has passed, as also has the era of “kid glove” responses. The immediate target, however, must be those who are shamelessly using fake news as part of their campaign to undermine Hong Kong and damage China. 

The author is a senior counsel, law professor and criminal justice analyst, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of Hong Kong.  

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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