- However noble their goals, protesters’ extreme violence against property and people can no longer be excused. And yet pundits and, more importantly, members of the Hong Kong Bar Association continue to make excuses for them
I suspect my mindset must have been hampered by the narrowness of my practice as a criminal lawyer. I find myself forced to identify what I have been seeing on my TV screen for the past few months as grave crimes committed against our community: burning bank branches, destroying grocery stores and restaurants, desecrating crucial railway stations and brutally assaulting other citizens, apparently for holding different political views.
Anyone barely civilised would understand that indiscriminate violence is counterproductive. This probably explains why criminal laws in virtually all civilised jurisdictions proscribe violence.
Thus, our own criminal law lays down boundaries to restrict the behaviour of individuals, without which it would be impossible to outlaw physical conflicts among various members of the community.
Yet, when a large number of people refuse to respect the law, public order disintegrates rapidly. This naturally causes significant disruptions to the lives of many of our polity's honest and hard-working citizens.
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In the context of the present situation, the collapse of order is bringing significant economic woes and may in the end deal a most severe blow against Hong Kong's unique but increasingly precarious system of limited self-rule.
I appreciate that many youths yearn for the realisation of certain political ideals. It is admirable for them to hold dear these ideals, and they may in time build up visions of a more equitable society.
Then, if they are to engage in greater in-depth studies, experimentation and rethinking, this generation of youths may eventually blossom into future leaders; their creative proposals could in time help disentangle some of the trickiest of our political and social problems. All these can be and should be attempted through rational dialogue.
However, in the past few months, many youths have been stirred into abandoning reason and replacing it with barbarism. Instead of peacefully advocating their stances, they have resorted to destructive conduct, taking them far beyond the set boundaries laid down by the law. Too many of them have by now committed serious criminal offences including rioting, arson, criminal damage and inflicting grievous bodily harm.
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These youths apparently know how to insist on their own rights. Yet, at the time when they are causing widespread damage to property and public facilities, and disrupting the lives of many of their fellow citizens, these same youngsters have consistently adopted the most cavalier of attitudes with regard to the rights of others.
At the same time, many of them portray themselves as willing martyrs for their cause and some even declare that they are ready to serve substantial jail time.
My experience in criminal practice has informed me that there is nothing worth romanticising about the criminal process. If and when these riot cases are examined by our courts, attention will be focused on the horrors of the injuries sustained by the victims and the destructive acts committed by the defendants. Eventually, those found guilty would face lengthy imprisonment, meaning that their lives would be put on hold for a long time.
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For me, the greatest absurdity is that all the sufferings and destruction serve no meaningful purpose; Hong Kong has become embroiled in the flames of senseless nihilism. At the end of the day, no sensible person expects that the continuing unrest will result in "true democracy".
I was therefore hoping that my profession would take an unequivocal stance in denouncing the mindless acts of lawlessness committed during the unrest. Those perpetrating violence, vandalism and other crimes should know from those practising law that their acts constitute serious crimes and are not tolerable in any civilised society.
Furthermore, I find it extremely disturbing that some opinion leaders in Hong Kong have sought to offer excuses on behalf of the rioters; they try to shift the blame onto the government or other parties. That the government has mishandled the situation is beyond doubt. Additionally, there may be indications that some police officers have used excessive force when dealing with the rioters.
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Nevertheless, it is clear to me that someone else's mistakes cannot justify one's crimes. Our law does not recognise retaliation as a defence against a criminal charge. The rioters' rampant acts of violence can never be excused on the basis that others have done something wrong previously.
I saw an acute need for my profession to denounce those offering nothing but the most specious of reasonings in shifting the attention away from those actually committing those criminal acts. When the rioters are led to think that they have secured allies from within our ranks, they are likely to be emboldened into taking even more radical actions, thereby raising the risk of greater harm to our fellow citizens.
I thus felt strongly that the bar association must express its strongest disapproval against both the perpetrators of the ongoing unrest and those who provide a spin on these rioters.
As it became increasingly apparent to me that a substantial majority of my colleagues on the Bar Council remained highly reticent to state, with unequivocal clarity, that both the rioters and those who proffer excuses on their behalf should be condemned, I was convinced that my outlook diverged too much from the council for me to remain among its rank.
Edwin Choy has been a practising barrister in Hong Kong since 2001. He was until recently a vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association
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