Young Love

Hong Kong’s answer to Romeo and Juliet face a second court appearance later this month that could leave them with a criminal record which takes away their future.

Unless, that is, our Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen steps in and orders the prosecution halted in the public interest. I think he would be wise to do so.

First we need to get some facts on the table without whetting readers’ prurient interest too much. Although I have not seen the tape myself, only read media reports about it, the main points seem fairly clear. Two young students – both as it happens from the mainland not that it should matter – attending different universities in Hong Kong enjoyed some oral sex followed by full intercourse. Nothing wrong with that, you might say, better than anything on the television, except for one minor wrinkle. The performance was carried out in public next to a bus stop outside the student hostel, albeit in the early hours when not many people were about.

Someone taped the whole episode and uploaded it on the internet. The police were able to identify the participants, and within a few days arrested them. They have already made one court appearance and have a second date fixed.

Several things about the case seem to me to cry out for attention. First, both actors were above the age of consent and entitled to do what they did (albeit they might want to think a bit more about location next time). Secondly, nobody was forcing anyone else to participate. By all accounts this was a mutually enthusiastic coupling. So, no crime so far.

Now, on the scene at the time were only a few people one of whom made the video. The police were not apparently on the spot to catch the pair in flagrante delicto. What brought about their involvement was the fact that the love-making was "in public" but what potentially brought in the wider public was that very video. So has the person who filmed the scene and uploaded it to the internet been identified and arrested? Has he been pursued with the same degree of determination and efficiency? Apparently not, but I feel bound to query the omission bearing in mind that he has – if the same standards are being applied as to the couple themselves – published pornography.

When we are on the subject of people being caught red handed on tape carrying out illegal acts, we of course immediately think of seven police officers who took a social activist out of a public demonstration to a quiet dark corner where they gave him a good thrashing. That tape I have seen, as have most of the other seven million residents of Hong Kong, and there is no confusion about what happened. The incident occurred many months ago, but none of the seven has yet seen a courtroom or even been charged.

And if we take a further step back and extend the scope from videos to include still photographs, then most of us will have seen the pictures of a (now former) chief executive accepting inappropriate levels of hospitality from business friends. That incident took place several years ago, and we have been assured for many months now that a decision on the case is "imminent". Only if we are measuring time in geological terms apparently.

But let’s get back to our young lovers. The charge they face is something along the lines of "outraging public decency". Just stop and think for a moment, Rimsky. What really outrages the public is the blatant double standard being applied to these cases.

Just to be clear, I am not calling for my old friend and colleague Donald Tsang to be prosecuted. But a decision does need to be made without further ado on whether what he did was just a foolish mistake which can be dealt with at the disciplinary level (in which case the humiliation he has already suffered might be deemed punishment enough) or criminal misconduct in which case he deserves his day in court. Similarly with the errant policemen. To drag out serious cases for many months or even years while bringing minor cases to court within a few days undermines respect for the rule of law. And that’s the naked truth.