Under China’s Authoritarian Governance: Hong Kong Marches Towards “Rule by Law”
When Typhoon Hato struck Hong Kong last month, the Hong Kong Observatory issued the Typhoon Signal No.10, which is the highest level of tropical cyclone warning signals in Hong Kong since 2012. Although no death was reported, the rampage of Hato was enough to cause widespread flooding, property damage, and put the city to a standstill. Yet, the devastations caused by Hato are, by no means, comparable to another storm that shakes up the political landscape in the territory. Within one week, 16 young political prisoners emerged when 13 activists in the anti-northeast New Territories development demonstrations were first sentenced to 13 months in prison, followed by the Student-trio of the Umbrella Movement were later put behind bars from six to eight months.
Three years since the Umbrella Movement, Hong Kong is on the onset of a political purge with the Occupy Central Trio and other democrats are now high on the list in the next round of political prosecution. Despite top government officials repeatedly denied that these prosecutions are politically motivated, claiming appropriate legal proceeding was followed and the sentences were based on their offences, the Judiciary uncharacteristically opted to appeal the original sentences handed down to the 16 young activists, even at the expense of overturning opinions from the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Transplanting the Chinese Legal Model to Hong Kong
What is more disturbing is the biased verdict delivered by the vice president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Wally Yeung. “The three defendants must have known that when a huge crowd force their way into Civic Square, it would most definitely lead to clashes between them and the security guards of Civic Square, and it was highly possible that there would be injuries and deaths, and destruction of property.” he said, despite the fact that the Student-Trio climbed into the barricaded Civic Square without initiating any violent acts or injuring anyone. The judge also criticized the students’ call to “Reclaim” Civic Square is “violent and might involve forces”. Such controversial and distorted interpretations inevitably caused doubts among Hong Kong people on their beliefs in the independence of the judicial system.
In the past, Hong Kong has always lauded “Rule of Law” and “judicial independence” as the cornerstone of social development. However, as we can see from the policies implemented by the Central Government in Hong Kong in recent years, it is evident that the Chinese legal model is slowly tiptoeing into the Hong Kong courts. In China, political dissidents are often prosecuted with charges such as “inciting a crowd to disturb social order” or “subversion of state” and claims that such trials comply with “rule of law”. But in truth, without democracy, the legal system can no longer keeps the government’s power in check, rather, it has become a political tool for the government to further consolidate power.
Hong Kong marching towards “rule by law”
Back in 2008, when Xi Jinping first came to Hong Kong as the Vice President of China, he raised his view on “mutual cooperation and support among the executive authorities, the legislature and the judiciary”. In 2017, Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress claimed that Hong Kong should not follow the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers, but to be led by the Chief Executive and his executive officials. Then, after the National People’s Congress reinterpreted the Basic Law, which lay the foundation for Hong Kong courts to serve its political needs in dispelling six legislators from the Hong Kong Legislative Council for modifying oaths. These examples illustrate that “rule by law” is slowly replacing “rule of law”, where the legal system is devised for social control and eliminate political oppositions.
Death Knell is Ringing… for Whom?
Regardless of the increasing political suppression, Hong Kong people are not defeated. Over 100,000 people protested, the largest since the Umbrella Movement, to express their rage against the court’s rulings. We are all aware that politically prosecutions and harsh sentences are endangering our rights and freedom. The death knell is ringing, for you and for me.