In recent times many in our community have gradually divided themselves into two broad camps, blue and yellow. Arguably the process began with Occupy in 2014, but it has certainly been accelerated over the past year during the extradition saga. Positions on both sides have stiffened. Hard core blues can see no action by the police requiring censure or even investigation, while their yellow counterparts take as Gospel truth every rumour however wild and lacking in evidence.
It has become increasingly hard to hold the middle ground, to see error and truth on both sides. If we believe in democracy but also want a strong police force to keep the peace, where do we fit in? This is particularly a problem for commentators in the media. I have been arguing in this newspaper for 10 years now in favour of political reform because I believe it is essential for Hong Kong’s long-term stability and prosperity. Since last year I have been pressing the case for an independent commission of inquiry because I believe this is a vital part of the process of reestablishing social harmony. As these points correspond to two of the “five demands, not one less” promulgated by the protesters, does this make me a yellow? On the other hand, I have unreservedly condemned the violence and vandalism perpetrated by some yellows, does this make me too pro government, maybe even a secret blue?
The extreme polarization of our society is very unhealthy. For one thing it has alienated so many of our well-educated young people. In other circumstances we might have looked to these students to provide the future leadership of the government including the police force. It may now be too late, they could all have been lost.
Let’s look at some specific allegations from a neutral perspective. Have there been instances of excessive force or other misconduct by the police? There probably have, and the Yuen Long incident was a disgrace. Equally, some of the attacks by protesters are indistinguishable from terrorism. When you throw a Molotov cocktail at a policeman you create the possibility he and bystanders will be burned alive. Doxing the children of police officers is simply wrong, indefensible. These conclusions seem to me no more than common sense.
But then we come into areas where the conclusions are hotly disputed. Were people murdered at Prince Edward MTR station with bodies spirited away? The young man who fell to his death from a Tseung Kwan O carpark, a slip or a push? The young girl whose body was found floating naked in the harbour, suicide or gang rape followed by murder? Blues will not hesitate to dismiss all such allegations. Neutrals simply hope the worst is not true. What I find scary is the willingness of hundreds of thousands of yellows to believe the most sinister interpretations.
As it happens there were two reports earlier this month which may help us find a path through the fog of uncertainty. Secretary for security John Lee Ka Chiu told reporters that those who wished to report misconduct by police should not rush to the media to make the matter public. Rather they should lodge their case with the Complaints Against Police Office, which would carry out a thorough investigation. That would be a reasonable appeal for the minister to make, but it is predicated on CAPO having a solid reputation for being impartial.
As it happens, the day following Lee’s statement there came a story in the media about a lady who had wanted some material held by the police to support her complaint to CAPO. She claimed to have been travelling on a bus last October which was stopped by the police so that they could search all the passengers. On her turn she was instructed by a female officer to remove her one piece dress – in effect to strip down to her underwear – in the presence of male police officers and members of the public. The whole process was filmed by one of the officers. The lady has asked for a copy of the video.
The response from the police was striking: they could not provide a copy because to do so would violate the privacy of other persons present. When the lady suggested pixelating their faces, the police said they did not have the software to do so. Obtaining the software and deploying an officer for the purpose would cost an estimated $100,000 and the police wanted her to pay up front. What the response includes is interesting enough, but what it omits is fascinating. There is no denial that she was ordered to strip to her underwear in public, that male officers and other members of the public were present, and that the whole thing had been filmed.
Can it really be the case that police general orders permit females to be searched in this manner?
This case needs to be clarified urgently. For it poses at least two serious questions. If some police officers are prepared to behave like this in public, what might they be prepared to do behind closed doors. And, if CAPO is a serious organization, why doesn’t it simply demand a copy of the video as part of its investigative process.
Lurking behind this case is a much more serious allegation, detailed in three public statements by a local law firm, acting on behalf of a Ms X, who claims to have been gangraped in Tsuen Wan police station last year. She became pregnant, had an abortion, and gave consent for DNA to be taken from the dead foetus. Since the original report there have been further complaints about the conduct of the CAPO investigation. Ms X is now reported to be in hiding overseas for her own safety.
This material is too heavy for a mere columnist. Let’s start with the underwear case which seems much more straightforward. Over to you Mr Lee.