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HK instigators like Benny Tai not spared from legal liability

By Yang Sheng | China Daily Asia | Updated: 2021-01-14 09:54

Hong Kong residents wave Chinese national flags to show support for the implementation of the national security law for the SAR at Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, June 30, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

The three attackers who brutalized Global Times reporter Fu Guohao at the Hong Kong International Airport in summer 2019 were sentenced last week to prison terms ranging from four years and three months to five years and six months, the heaviest penalties among all sentences meted out in riot-related trials so far. It is a general consensus of the international community that all demands should be raised in accordance with the law and in a peaceful manner, resorting to violence will be without fail an offense punishable by law. Recently, US President Donald Trump was accused of inciting his supporters to protest at the Capitol in Washington DC, which turned into a violent act on Jan 6 that many people called an insurrection, and the perpetrators are seen as domestic terrorists, prompting the House of Representatives to impeach him again. The unfolding political drama in Washington makes a perfect case for national security crime trials in Hong Kong, with such defendants as Benny Tai Yiu-ting and fellow organizers or instigators of riots and subversive activities. Their attempts to paralyze the Hong Kong SAR government by violence and illegal "polls" must be severely dealt with according to the law for the sake of justice and public interest.

The brutal treatment of Fu Guohao by "localist" rioters at the HKIA on live TV shocked people everywhere. The presiding judge handling the case noted that the HKIA is a window as well as a landmark for Hong Kong and the defendants' illegal and brutal behavior tarnished the city's reputation as "the capital of peaceful protests"; while thousands of travelers and tourists became victims of indiscriminate harassment by rioters at the airport. Suddenly the rest of the world was unsure if Hong Kong was still safe and hospitable to visitors. He also deemed too high the cost of violence by a few individuals on the great majority of Hong Kong youths and "hurt many local residents' feelings deeply".

The court believed that heavy sentences were necessary to show its resolve in maintaining law and order in Hong Kong. After rioters, under the pretext of their so-called "five demands", flagrantly brutalized anyone who supported the SAR government and the Hong Kong police, the court is now taking appropriate actions to restore law and order. The presiding judge in this case pointed out, "However noble a cause may be, it loses all righteousness once it turns violent". Freedom of speech and assembly is protected by the Basic Law and relevant Hong Kong law as long as it is exercised peacefully according to the law. The verdict in this case no doubt sends a clear message that Hong Kong, as a society under the rule of law, will not condone violence no matter what excuse or argument the defendant can come up with.

No one should be allowed to express their demands through violence, or to pursue their political interests at the expense of the rule of law. This is a universal value that the international community has been defending for ages. This universal value has been fully demonstrated by the way the US and international community reacted to the violent attack on Capitol Hill by Trump supporters. Many state leaders around the world condemned the criminal acts and urged US authorities to bring all perpetrators to justice, including President Trump, who is accused of inciting the riot.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier berated the violence on Capitol Hill as "the result of lies and yet more lies, of division and contempt for democracy, of hatred and rabble-rousing, including from the very highest level". Members of the House Judiciary Committee issued a statement urging Vice-President Mike Pence and members of President Trump's Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution and remove Trump from office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that if the vice-president and cabinet did not take actions, Congress was ready to push for impeachment of the president. Some constitutional law scholars predicted that, should Trump be impeached again, the most serious charge could be "inciting insurrection" or conspiracy to subvert the federal government.

It goes without saying that anyone who participated in a riot should be brought to justice, but those who incited or organized riots deserve heavier punishment by law. The same logic applies to Hong Kong. The police have arrested the organizers and participants of the illegal "35-plus primary" on suspicion of subversion under the National Security Law, including Benny Tai Yiu-ting. Tai, widely seen as the "evil genius" of the opposition camp, is responsible for indoctrinating numerous Hong Kong youths with such deceitful mumbo-jumbo as "achieving justice by breaking the law", instigated many illegal campaigns that turned violent without exception, including "Occupy Central", the "anti-extradition law amendment bill movement", election-rigging schemes such as "ThunderGo 2.0" and "35-plus primary", all of which together were referred to as "black revolution" because of the systematic involvement of foreign and external forces. After being released on bail, he was reported as saying "Hong Kong has entered a bitter winter, the wind is blowing strong and cold". He added that he "believes many people in Hong Kong would go against the wind one way or another". There is no doubt he is still trying to "stir the pot" with subterfuge and double talk.

Even Donald Trump, aptly called "the most powerful man in the world" because he is the US president, has been accused of inciting insurrection and may face impeachment soon. What excuse can Hong Kong's instigators like Benny Tai and Jimmy Lai Chee-ying find to get away with inciting riots and conspiracy to subvert state power, apart from harming national security and undermining Hong Kong’s law and order?

The author is a current affairs commentator.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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