** edit: added intro to provide context of this letter.
On 26 Oct, 2019, Mr Lawrence Lok SC (member of Bar Association Exco) published a Letter to Hong Kong addressed to his friend Peter via RTHK. The link for Mr. Lok’s original Chinese letter is at the bottom of this post.
Arrangement was made for the publication of a Chinese letter in reply on 30 October 2019 (scroll further down if you want to read the original Chinese letter). Due to popular demand, we have translated Peter’s letter into English.*
How are you, my dear classmate? I was so thrilled to receive your letter three days ago.
After reading it, I wept in grief and tossed and turned all night.
In your letter, you questioned “how, during the current conflicts, can anyone turn a blind eye to so many young secondary school students flagrantly breaking the law by committing acts of road obstruction, serious vandalism, and physical assault etc.?” You also said that “having decent, sensible and law-abiding citizens champion the criminal acts and law-breaking of these youngsters is incompatible with Hong Kong’s longstanding core values”.
You have raised a good question and answered it well. My spirits rose when you expressed this view. However, upon further reading, I came to realise that your impartiality was merely a facade, and what you really wanted to express was that “these youngsters were inflicted with serious injuries during and after arrest”; and “were prepared to sacrifice their liberty and even their lives for change, but has the current establishment listened or given way?”
First of all, regarding your point that “youngsters were inflicted with serious injuries during and after arrest”, do you have specific figures and substantive evidence for this?
Secondly, even if some of those being arrested were injured during arrest, may I ask whether or not they had tried to escape, struggle, resist with #violence or even assaulted police officers at the time? And are you in possession of substantive evidence in this respect? If those being arrested had deployed violence whilst struggling and resisting arrest, would it not be fairly normal for them to be injured (or even seriously injured according to you) in the scheme of things?
As for any group of fully-armed and armoured in full-gear so-called “protestors” who greatly outnumber police officers on many occasions (to be referred to as “rioters”, because the grounds for their arrest are not based on protesting), in the event that police officers, when exercising their powers of arrest, are faced with rioters who are violently struggling and resisting arrest or even assaulting police officers, what would be a feasible way to ensure that rioters are left completely uninjured? Since you proclaim that “no one underestimates the difficulty of the police’s job in these circumstances”, then surely as a renowned Hong Kong Senior Counsel, you could enlighten me with some practical advice on this matter? For instance, perhaps you can advocate those being arrested not to resist arrest by raising their hands in the air? I believe this will assuredly minimise the risk of any injuries to a significant extent.
Thirdly, when you accused the police of displaying excessive force, could you enlighten me as to what exactly is the “appropriate” level of force? Is it not the case that police officers have to use a commensurate amount of force to effectively subdue rioters? It follows that the higher the level of resistance, the higher the level of force used by police officers. Is this not just basic common sense? Bear in mind that many rioters now routinely attack police officers with lethal petrol bombs and corrosive liquid, causing them serious injuries. Just recently, a man even attempted to murder a policeman by slashing his neck at close range with a box-cutter!
I also wish to seek your advice on this – what do you think would happen in similar arrest situations in countries which claim to respect human rights, such as the UK, US and France? Would injuries sustained by those being arrested not be significantly more serious than those in Hong Kong? Hand on your heart, do you truly believe that there would be zero fatalities in those countries when faced with a situation of escalating riots lasting several months? Out of all the precedents far and wide, let us just consider a more recent and not dissimilar example of the Mouvement des gilets jaunes (Yellow Vest Movement) in France where, during just the first 8 months of the movement, a total of 11 people died and 2,200 protesters were injured, of which 24 were blinded. I sincerely hope you can demonstrate a bit more fairness to the Hong Kong Police Force.
If citizens do not wish to suffer injuries, then all they have to do is to refrain from participating in illicit activities, or simply discontinue such illicit activities and evacuate after a police warning. Surely this is not an unreasonable request? As for those who persistently and stubbornly insist on participating in illicit activities, yet turn around to blame the police for excessive use of force after getting hurt, does this not smack of irresponsibility and hypocrisy? Are they really your so-called “youngsters who were prepared to sacrifice their liberty and even their lives”?
Police officers have been risking their lives under intensely hot weather to disperse and arrest rioters, but many citizens like you are lounging comfortably in the air-conditioned comfort of homes or offices whilst assimilating news reports on television or newspapers, and then microscopically examining and criticising whether each and every police action amounts to use of excessive force. Bear in mind that police officers on the frontlines enjoy no such privileges and luxuries, whilst defending these very things that you enjoy. Many citizens like you greatly relish condemning the use of force by the police with the benefit of hindsight, which displays clear bias and amounts to proselytising one’s own political stance under the guise of rational analysis. As I write, I am shrouded in immense sorrow.
Distortion of Logic; Reversal of Cause and Effect
You claimed in your letter that “the recalcitrant stance of those who govern plays a large part in sowing the seeds of violence.”
Lawrence, it is inconceivable that a Senior Counsel of your stature would justify violence like this. In criticising the government and the police force, you have overlooked the indisputable fact that all the violence has so far been initiated by rioters.
Over the past 4 months, rioters have gone on a rampage committing arson and vandalising property and public facilities everywhere, digging up bricks, dismantling street railings, damaging traffic signals, assaulting and falsely imprisoning members of the public who dared to voice differing views. They set up road-blocks, intercepted passing vehicles and extorted toll-payments from drivers, sabotaged the vehicles of non-complying drivers and beat up drivers who tried to remove the road-blocks. They have randomly hurled petrol bombs at police stations and even individual police officers and assaulted both on-duty and off-duty police officers in various locations, causing grievous bodily injuries to police officers. They have thrown bricks and filth at police domestic quarters and harassed the family members of police officers. They have severely damaged Mass Transit Railway (“MTR”) facilities and crippled its normal daily operations (even now, the MTR has not yet been able to resume its normal hours of service), severely restricting the freedom of movement of Hong Kong citizens. They have also blocked the Hong Kong International Airport numerous times, restricting the arrival and departure of Hong Kong citizens and overseas visitors. What has such violence to do with the government? What wrongdoing have ordinary citizens committed to deserve this?
You claimed that these rioters are “youngsters who toiled to reform an unjust system”. Have you been following the news? The conduct of many rioters has far exceeded the boundaries of the law and moral ethics. Recently, rioters have even arbitrarily vandalised and burnt the business premises of those with dissenting views, specifically targeting some Chinese banks and businesses. These incidents are prime examples of the tsunami of barbarism unleashed by the rioters. Lawrence, if I may ask: are these rioters reforming an unjust system or are they creating injustice? Are they still the youngsters you lauded as being “prepared to sacrifice their own liberty and even their lives”? May I ask whether innocent Hong Kong citizens have the right to reject the “sacrifices” of these rioters? Do these rioters remotely resemble what you deem to be “youngsters who toiled to reform an unjust system”?
In relation to such arbitrary, self-righteous, selfish and dictatorial atrocities, you merely flippantly questioned “whether condemnation would help” before turning around to blame the police who are simply upholding their responsibility to restore law and order! This is inherently illogical and a reversal of cause and effect. We may be getting on in age, but surely we are not that befuddled? Or perhaps I don’t really know you that well at all…
Heroes or Villains?
Throughout these large-scale riots, I am completely unable to identify those people you lauded as being “prepared to sacrifice their own liberty and even their lives”.
What I have actually seen is a bunch of thugs who are fully-masked in order to evade legal accountability and who go about fully-armed and armoured in full-gear, arbitrarily vandalising property everywhere and beating up and terrorising people with dissenting views. The only thing that these rioters are prepared to sacrifice is other people’s property. What’s more, they are desecrating the freedoms and liberties of other people.
From what I have seen, the vast majority of those being arrested were unwilling to undergo voluntary arrest, let alone being “prepared to sacrifice their own liberty and even their lives.” If they suffer injuries in the process of arrest, this is predominantly due to their own conduct in resisting arrest – a result of their own insistence on evading legal justice and repercussions of the law. They are surely the authors of their own misfortune (do you still remember the legal concept of “voluntary assumption of risk”?)
As a Hong Kong citizen, of course you are entitled to freedom of expression. Nevertheless, it is my sincere wish that, as a leading member of the legal profession and out of self-respect, you can still call a spade a spade instead of distorting the facts on account of your political stance, or even whitewashing rioters’ violence by sanitising, romanticising and glorifying their unrelenting terrorist activities.
Master of Manipulating Facts
In your letter, you also accused the police of “continually denying their abuse and wrongdoing”, but one of the examples you cited was that “the shooting of an 18-year-old on 1st October was justified by the Commissioner of Police as ‘lawful’ and ‘reasonable’ just hours after the incident”.
You are truly worthy of being at the top of your profession, merely using the words “shooting” to underscore the fact that an 18-year-old student was shot, but deliberately omitting to mention the context of that incident. Unless you only read biased media reports or newspapers, you must surely have seen the video clip capturing the entire “shooting” incident that went viral, depicting very clearly the chain of events and the cause and effect giving rise to the shooting. One can see very clearly from the video clip that immediately before the shooting, 5 to 6 fully masked, fully-armed and armoured in full-gear rioters (including the 18-year-old who was later shot) were scouting around for targets, and when they spotted a lone police officer, the rioters immediately gave chase and attacked him, to the extent that even when he fell and was pinned to the ground, the rioters continued to beat him up incessantly and ferociously.
Soon afterwards, the police officer who subsequently opened fire appeared and attempted to stop the rioters and rescue his fallen colleague. Upon seeing the second police officer draw his service revolver, the 18-year old (who was later shot) did not try to escape or raise his hands in surrender. Instead, using a rod as a weapon to attack the second police officer, he actually hit the police officer’s hand that was holding the gun, at which point, the shot was fired. Under these circumstances, I can only regrettably say that the 18-year old man was most certainly the author of his own misfortune. The officer who fired the shot and the other officer lying on the ground were outnumbered at the time by fully-masked, fully-armed and armoured in full-gear rioters, and were in an extremely vulnerable situation. For the officer to open fire, it was not only lawful and reasonable, but also a matter of necessity in order to protect himself and his fallen colleague. If a similar situation occurred in countries that proclaim their respect for human rights, undoubtedly more than one rioter would have been shot, and each rioter would likely have been hit by multiple gunshots. Apart from Hong Kong, where else in the world can you find a place where marauding gangs of rioters could act in concert to attack police officers and yet emerge alive?
The chain of events that culminated in the shooting incident is crystal clear, which baffles me as to why it is that even today, there are still people confused with the cause and effect, using distorted logic to excuse the atrocities of rioters. Even harder to comprehend is why someone like you, Lawrence, failed to grasp such a simple rationale (or pretended not to understand).
Baseless Accusations, Contrary to Legal Rules of Evidence
In your letter, you also claimed that “complaints about violence inflicted on arrested persons inside police stations are commonplace”. This allegation (and the ludicrous rationale behind it), coming from an old fellow classmate, is simply laughable and regrettable.
First of all, may I ask you since when does the truthfulness of an allegation depend purely on the number of similar complaints? When you claimed that “complaints about violence inflicted on arrested persons inside police stations are commonplace”, are you of the view that these allegations are already proven facts? May I ask where is the evidence? Or is your view that such allegations are already proven facts based on the one-sided accounts of those arrested who clearly have a conflict of interest?
Let me use an example familiar to both of us. In the course of criminal trials, defendants often complain that police officers have used force, inducement or threat to obtain confessions. With your vast experience in criminal trials, it is impossible for you to be unaware of the fact that most of these complaints are in essence fairly similar and uniform, but in reality, they are usually rejected by the courts. May I ask you this: since the courts in most instances dismiss these complaints as not being proved and reject them after deliberations despite them being so commonplace, does this mean that the courts have necessarily erred in their judgments?
What astounds me greatly is your deliberate attempt to insinuate indirectly that “complaints about violence inflicted on arrested persons inside police stations” is a proven fact, yet you did not (or cannot) provide any substantive and credible evidence in support, which leads me to ask: is this not just bare assertion? As a barrister, is this not a direct contradiction of the concept of evidential proof?
As to the word “violence”, this is a vague yet extremely serious allegation. I wonder what you are referring to. Is it the claim made by a female student of the Chinese University of Hong Kong some 2 weeks ago that she was subjected to so-called “sexual violence” at a certain location?
Did you fail to realise that the very next day when this student was interviewed on the radio, she took no time to make drastic changes to the version of her story that she had previously read out from a prepared script only the evening before (whether in respect of the number of alleged victims, their gender, or the location of the alleged assault, details of which had all changed completely). So may I ask you, as a Senior Counsel, whether or not you have decided to unquestioningly accept such self-contradictory accounts at face value, and whether or not you take the view that her complaint of “sexual violence” is a proven fact? If this is just an unproven allegation, based purely on the uncorroborated account of the alleged victim (just like in criminal trials, many defendants invariably deny criminal charges made against them and base such denials on their own accounts), yet you emphatically referred to such complaints as being commonplace, are you not pre-judging the case on behalf of the courts, deliberately misleading the public and doing grave injustice to the police?
You also claimed in your letter that “arbitrary arrests abound”. This is a very serious and unfair accusation. The Hong Kong police force has always enjoyed a stellar reputation. Over the past several decades, there has never been any news reports of “arbitrary arrests” by the police. On what basis are you saying that “arbitrary arrests abound”? In your dreams? Or in a parallel universe?
Moreover, all the court cases arising from the anti-extradition protest movement have not been finally adjudicated. Prior to this, the guilt or innocence of those arrested and defendants has yet to be determined by the courts. So may I ask on what basis are you saying that some (or even the majority) of the arrests were arbitrary without reasonable grounds? Are you seriously suggesting that most of those arrested are law-abiding model citizens, that they only just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that their arrests were purely a series of unfortunate coincidences?
In your letter, you mentioned that “there is nothing shameful in holding those armed with power, public authority and weaponry to account”. I agree. However, unfortunately, what I derived from your letter was a combination of self-contradictory, overgeneralised, logically unsound and unsubstantiated accusations.
You mentioned in your letter that “the recalcitrant stance of those who govern plays a large part in sowing the seeds of violence”. I absolutely cannot agree with you on this.
What you labelled as “seeds of violence” is no different from the rioters’ favourite analogy of “eggs against a high wall”. This is merely an attempt by rioters to provide themselves with a highfalutin noble excuse by mythologizing themselves and their illicit conduct as the oppressed being forced to rebel. They are labouring under the romantic feel-good self-delusion that they are heroic, and are using this as an idealistic excuse to justify their atrocities.
It is a disservice to Hong Kong when flawed reasoning such as that employed in your letter runs rampant throughout the Hong Kong society, especially when propagated indiscriminately by intellectuals. Professionals should not leverage their standing in society to bamboozle the public. Instead, they should have a sense of social responsibility and commitment to our society.
Finally, I would like to emphasise here that for any society governed by the rule of law, observance of the law is of paramount and irreplaceable importance. It is deeply regrettable that those with legal background and training have seen fit to deliberately devalue the importance of observing the law whilst taking pains to infinitely inflate the importance of civil rights (more precisely, the civil rights of only some individual citizens). This is not only a grave insult to the rule of law, but also a serious affront to each and every law-abiding Hong Kong citizen.
Lawrence, as mentioned in your letter, our political stances have differed over the years. At this stage of our lives, our paths sadly diverge. Thank you for remembering that I taught you how to swim. Let all the good times and nostalgia remain buried in our memories and regret.
30th October 2019
Note 1: From #SingTaoDaily dated on 13 Aug 2019