- How a murder in Taiwan and mainland mums giving birth in Hong Kong sparked major crises
- Ongoing protests put the spotlight on landmark cases that triggered unforeseeable effects
"What is the butterfly effect? A Hong Kong scumbag killed his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan, leading to a ban on mainland China watching the NBA," railed an angry basketball fan on Chinese blogging website Weibo on October 8, 2019.
The mainland netizen was referring to the case of Hongkonger Chan Tong-kai, 20, the prime suspect in his girlfriend's murder in February 2018. Chan returned to Hong Kong but could not be sent back to Taiwan to help in investigations because there is no extradition arrangement between the island and Hong Kong.
The butterfly effect refers to incidents which have unexpected, far-reaching repercussions, and that Taiwan murder fits the description. Few expected the fallout when Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she was prompted by the Taiwan murder to push for legislative amendments to allow fugitives such as Chan to be sent to jurisdictions with which the city has no extradition arrangement.
Her extradition bill triggered protests over fears that fugitives would end up being sent to mainland China. Although Lam has since withdrawn the bill, some said the move came too late and too much anti-government hatred had been sown. The protests have continued, become increasingly violent and broadened into demands for democratic reform and universal suffrage.
Sharply anti-mainland, the protests have become a sensitive subject with Beijing, especially when foreigners comment and take the side of the protesters.
The United States' National Basketball Association found itself in the thick of controversy after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for the protesters, saying: "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong."
The Chinese government and state media reacted swiftly and angrily. Among other things, Telecom giant Tencent and state broadcaster CCTV suspended broadcasts of Rockets games.
Legions of unhappy Chinese basketball fans railed against the "butterfly" that had wrought such disaster upon their enjoyment of the sport, the death of a woman in Taiwan last year.
Meanwhile, the chief murder suspect Chan, jailed in Hong Kong for money laundering, is expected to be released later this month.
Upon his release, Chan, wanted in Taiwan, intended to turn himself in for the murder of his pregnant girlfriend hoping to calm the chaos in his home turf, the Post learns from the provincial secretary general of Hong Kong's Anglican church, Reverend Canon Peter Douglas Koon Ho-ming, on Friday.
Previous landmark cases in Hong Kong have also triggered chains of unforeseeable, significant effects. Here are four of them.
Interpretation of the Basic Law
Many legal experts still consider the 1999 case of Ng Ka Ling v Director of Immigration the most significant ruling by Hong Kong's courts in modern times.
It came soon after Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 by the British, and as it was coming to grips with its new mini-constitution, the Basic Law. That was also a time when the High Court was handling numerous applications from mainland-born children on their rights to residency.
The Ng case challenged restrictions on the right of abode for those born on the mainland with one parent who was a Hong Kong resident. A key question was whether children born on the mainland before their parents became Hong Kong residents qualified to live in the city as well.
Hong Kong's top court, the Court of Final Appeal, ruled against the government in January 1999, removing restrictions on such children's residency.
The administration of the first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, feared the court decision would result in an influx of more than 1.6 million mainlanders and, for the first time, turned to the central government for help.
In May that year, the court's ruling was overturned by the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee through its own interpretation of the Basic Law.
The five months between the court decision and Beijing's interpretation saw the city's legal sector polarised. There were widespread concerns that the interpretation by the NPC Standing Committee would undermine the city's the rule of law.
Lawyers staged a protest march and judges considered resigning. The Hong Kong court stated that it had the power to declare acts of the NPC and its standing committee invalid if they breached the Basic Law, causing pro-Beijing legal experts to accuse the Hong Kong courts of trying to challenge Beijing.
The crisis eventually blew over and legal experts agree that, over the years, the Hong Kong courts gradually regained their confidence.
The courts continued to rule against the government in other challenging cases without the administration seeking another interpretation of the law by Beijing.
Some believe Beijing prefers to avoid another similar controversy, but others warn that the threat still remains each time Hong Kong courts consider cases involving the Basic Law.
The right of abode
Next came the issue of mainland citizens born in Hong Kong. The right of these people to remain in Hong Kong regardless of their parents' immigration status was at the centre of the 2001 case of Director of Immigration v Chong Fung Yuen.
The three-year-old boy was born in 1997 to parents living in the city on two-way permits, which allowed them to visit Hong Kong but did not grant permanent residency.
The child won the right of abode. That meant that more than 2,000 children born in Hong Kong to mainland parents were immediately granted the right to remain.
Nobody foresaw what was to come and it took a decade after the court decision for its social impact to become evident.
In the years following the ruling, a steady stream of women from the mainland crossed the border to give birth in the city and secure a Hong Kong identity card for their children.
That meant their children could remain, enrol in school, and make use of Hong Kong's medical and social benefits. The number of babies born in the city to mainland mothers soared from 620 in 2001 to a record high of 35,736 in 2011.
When Hongkongers realised what was happening,there was a public outcry about the city's limited resources going to mainlanders, and fears of a shortage of medical facilities, school places, social welfare, and so on.
The unhappiness grew into a major political crisis and, in 2013, then chief executive Leung Chun-ying announced private hospitals would be banned from admitting pregnant mainland women whose husbands were not locals.
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He also warned that the babies of these women may no longer be allowed to claim permanent residency, although no concrete policy followed to plug that loophole.
After the ban, the number of babies born to these mothers dropped sharply to 755 in 2015.
Many believe the right-of-abode issue triggered anti-mainland sentiments among Hongkongers that have festered and resulted in many cross-border conflicts over the years, including the current social unrest.
Jailing Occupy leaders
To understand the feelings of young Hongkongers involved in ongoing anti-government protests, some analysts suggest looking at court decisions concerning student activists and others involved in 2014's Occupy protests, which shut down parts of central Hong Kong for 79 days.
In 2017, the Hong Kong courts dealt with the criminal trials of student activists and Occupy leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung, who was 21 at the time, Alex Chow Yong-kang, 27, and disqualified lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung, 24. The three were found guilty over their roles in storming government headquarters on September 26, 2014, two days before the Occupy protests began. A lower court spared them prison terms, but prosecutors appealed and all three were sentenced to jail by the Court of Appeal.
Just months earlier, Law and three other pro-democracy politicians " "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, 61, Lau Siu-lai, 41, and Edward Yiu Chung-yim, 53 " were disqualified as lawmakers by the Court of First Instance despite having been democratically elected. This was because of the improper manner in which they had taken their oaths of office on October 12, 2016. The court also rejected the final appeal of two pro-independence lawmakers-elect, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, ousted over the same oath-taking controversy.
Analysts say those court decisions had an effect on young Hongkongers, who felt their voices were not being heard, as they were not represented in the political system. They say brewing dissatisfaction finally spilled over into this year's unrest, with young people a central part of the ongoing protests.
Rights for same-sex couples
Two Court of Final Appeal decisions in 2017 have been hailed as major steps forward for the city's sexual minority groups.
The first was when the appeal court ruled in favour of British lesbian "QT" and against the Immigration Department, which refused to grant her a spousal visa when she accompanied her partner, who moved to Hong Kong to work.
The two women had entered into a civil partnership in Britain, but immigration officials held that marriage in Hong Kong is defined as a union between a man and woman.
The other case involved gay immigration officer Angus Leung, a Hongkonger who married his partner, Scott Adams, in New Zealand.
When the Civil Service Bureau refused to give Leung's partner the benefits given to spouses of heterosexual employees, Leung challenged the bureau all the way to the top court, which decided unanimously in his favour.
Following those rulings, the government announced for the first time in September last year it would recognise overseas same-sex partnerships when granting dependant visas.
The director of immigration would henceforth favourably consider an application for entry for residence as a dependant from anyone who has entered into "a same-sex civil partnership, same-sex civil union, same-sex marriage, or opposite-sex civil partnership or opposite-sex civil union outside Hong Kong", if the person met the normal immigration requirements.
The new policy was welcomed by rights advocates, but opponents of LGBT rights called on the government to make sure the amendment did not lead to more rights for gay couples. Officials insisted it would not.
On Friday, the Court of First Instance ruled against the city's first judicial challenge for same-sex marriage and civil union partnerships. The court ruled against a lesbian woman, known as MK, who complained that the government's failure to provide the options of marriage or civil union partnerships had violated her constitutional rights.
Earlier, the city's Equal Opportunities Commission engaged law firm Allen & Overy to prepare a report, which identified about 100 ways how people in unconventional relationships, including same-sex marriages and LGBT partnerships, were being treated differently under Hong Kong law.
"We are calling on the government to consider the research in detail to conduct a comprehensive review to legally recognise same-sex relationship in Hong Kong," Marc Rubinstein, a co-founder of Hong Kong Gay and Lesbian Attorneys Network, which comprises lawyers supporting LGBT rights, said.
Additional reporting by Chris Lau
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