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Thursday, September 05, 2019, 20:42
When combating terror, appeasement of violence will never be acceptable
By Grenville Cross
Thursday, September 05, 2019, 20:42 By Grenville Cross

"There is no higher priority”, said former United States attorney general John Ashcroft, “than the prevention of terrorism”.

In 2002, the United Nations (Anti-Terrorism Measures) Ordinance was enacted in Hong Kong. It describes a “terrorist” as “a person who commits or attempts to commit a terrorist act or who participates in or facilitates the commission of a terrorist act”.

As for what constitutes a “terrorist act”, this involves the use or threat of action for the purposes of causing serious violence against a person, or causing serious damage to property, or endangering a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action. The use or threat of action must, moreover, also be intended to compel the government, or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and be made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.

It is clear, therefore, that Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu was wholly justified in describing last weekend’s violence as a “black terror”. Not only were police officers attacked with about 100 gasoline bombs, as well as with bricks and corrosive liquids, but fires were started in different locations. Wanton damage was caused to the Tung Chung MTR station, and its employees were intimidated. All this was done by fanatics who hoped their excesses would force the government to bow to their demands, and all the indicia of terrorism were present.

However, long before these latest outrages, it was clear that terrorist elements had hijacked the original protest movement, with a separatist agenda of their own. This became obvious on June 12, when rioters violently attacked police officers protecting the Legislative Council Complex, and, subsequently, on July 1, when they vandalized it. Once inside, their political objective was made clear when they scrawled “Hong Kong is not China” on the wall, unfurled colonial-era flags, and ostentatiously ripped up the Basic Law.

There can, however, be no concessions to those who have resorted to terrorist activity. After all, history shows that anyone who gives in to terrorism even once will have to continue doing so thereafter, and appeasement, at best, simply buys time, but at huge cost ... The Department of Justice should enhance its dedicated public order case team, and ensure that cases are expeditiously processed, with terrorism suspects facing the gravest offenses

On July 19, moreover, an explosives depot was discovered in Tsuen Wan, which contained 2 kilograms of TATP (acetone peroxide) high explosive, together with gasoline bombs, knives, catapults, helmets, face masks, goggles, and T-shirts of the Hong Kong National Front. This was the largest-ever bomb plot in Hong Kong’s history, and if it had not been located in time, the consequences could have been dire. 

However, neither the discovery of this bomb factory nor of another one in Tin Shui Wai on Aug 1 prevented two officers from being subsequently set on fire after they were hit by Molotov cocktails in Kowloon — a clear case of attempted murder. 

The terrorist acts, moreover, have also specifically targeted the public, whose safety has been disregarded. On Aug 5, for example, when a general strike was called, metal objects were placed on the MTR lines, which could have derailed the trains and killed passengers. Thereafter, two mainland visitors were beaten up at the airport, with one being knocked unconscious.

One of the protesters’ demands is for the government to terminate the prosecution of people who have been arrested for their role in the ongoing protests. This presumably extends not only to the rioters themselves and those who committed criminal damage, but also to those suspected of attempted murder and wounding; the arsonists; and the people who manufactured the explosives. 

Even if it wanted to, the government could not possibly accede to any such demand, as the fanatics know very well. This, of course, provides them with an excuse to continue waging war on society. They are not interested in dialogue, but in provoking Beijing into intervening in Hong Kong and ending “one country, two systems”.

Although some people have suggested appeasement is the way forward, by establishing a commission of inquiry, they have clearly learned nothing from the recent past. After the government shelved the fugitive offender bill, as they wanted, the activists simply demanded more. Their main focus now is on confronting Beijing, even if it means destroying Hong Kong in the process. In any event, the activists do not simply want a general inquiry, but a specific inquiry, into “police brutality”. They hope, thereby, to whitewash their own violence, even though it was what provoked the conflict in the first place.

There is, quite clearly, no quick fix to the situation, and the priority now is for the rule of law to be restored. Although much has been said about emergency regulations, these certainly need not be comprehensive. Selective regulations, for example, proscribing the wearing of face masks by protesters, as in Canada and the United States, or closing down the online hate forums, including those that urge readers to kill police officers, or doubling to six years the current maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment for unlawful processions, may be all that is required, at least in the short term.

There can, however, be no concessions to those who have resorted to terrorist activity. After all, history shows that anyone who gives in to terrorism even once will have to continue doing so thereafter, and appeasement, at best, simply buys time, but at huge cost.

In the meantime, therefore, the police should have their manpower strengthened, and be given bravery bonuses. The Department of Justice should enhance its dedicated public order case team, and ensure that cases are expeditiously processed, with terrorism suspects facing the gravest offenses. When convictions result, the judges must impose condign punishment, with the toughest penalties, including life imprisonment, reserved for terrorist-related crime and those who attempted to murder police officers.

Terrorism, of course, has blighted many societies and brought untold misery. Few people, however, ever imagined it would raise its ugly head in Hong Kong, let alone attract adherents. Although it can be defeated, this will not be easy. In addition, therefore, to governmental resolve and a concerted effort by police officers, prosecutors and judges to safeguard our way of life, the community as a whole must unequivocally renounce political violence and its associated terrorist activity. If it fails to do so, Hong Kong’s fate will have been sealed.

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


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