Brand Hong Kong's not as bright and cheery
these days as advertised on this tram!
As lunch yesterday, a friend asked me how it was going. I told her that I guess things weren't too bad as I hadn't been angry since last Wednesday, when I heard about Samuel Bickett getting deported from Hong Kong against his will. Alas, before the day was out, I found myself messaging her to tell her that I was incandescent with rage once again upon hearing about two court rulings made yesterday.
The first of these involved a group of street sleepers winning a case against the government, who they sued for damages after riot police and cleaners tossed away their personal belongings (including cash, family photos, bedding, clothing and a wheelchair) in the winter of 2019, only to find that the Small Claims Tribunal judge awarded each of the street sleepers just HK$100 (~US$12.78) in damages. To put it mildly: this pittance is an insult that doesn't cover the legal costs involved for them and is far from the HK$2,000 to HK$13,290 that the individuals concerned were claiming.
All in all, one gets the sense that the judge for the case does not value the people concerned and ruled accordingly with regarding to how much their personal property was worth. As one of the street sleepers, Siu-Bik Yuen, stated: "There is no human rights for us, we are treated as the lowest of the low, they (the government) don't regard us as human."
In addition, the judge seemed to have little sense of what life is like for these people. I say this becausse he ruled that that they had failed to provide sufficient proof to assert ownership of the items in that they had not produced any "photos or receipts of items, or other documents to show the value of the items they claimed were lost in the government operation". Well, yes -- because all that was tossed away by the riot police and cleaners, remember?!
Then there's the matter of the legal procedure having gone on for so long that two claimants passed away -- at least one, in mysterious circumstances -- before the court reached a verdict. As it so happened, one of them was a Vietnamese refugee -- which got me thinking of Drifting, a 2021 Hong Kong film about street sleepers whose characters had included an elderly Vietnamese refugee, and which had been inspired by a similar case involving street sleepers suing the government after getting their belongings trashed. In other words: this kind of thing is not new and all. And I'm sure the authorities won't be deterred from doing this again after getting off with such a light penalty yesterday!
The second court ruling which I was upset by yesterday involved "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, who turned 66 this past Sunday. Already serving a 23-month jail sentence for separately organising an unlawful protest, and facing the more serious charge of subversion under the national security law, he was slapped with an additional two week prison sentence for a snatching a folder from a government official during a legislature meeting back in 2016 when he was serving as a Legislative Councillor.
As per a news report: "His case has dragged on for years because of legal ambiguity over whether lawmakers can be charged over disruptions." But the way was paved to prosecute him for this "offence" after the Court of Final Appeal ruled in September of last year that his actions did not fall in the realm of the "protected speech" that Legislative Councillors were allowed.
Speaking of the Court of Final Appeals: it was announced today that two British judges who have been sitting on it have resigned. "The situation has reached a tipping point where it is no longer tenable for British judges to sit on Hong Kong’s leading court, and would risk legitimising oppression,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss stated.
In a statement of his own, one of those judges, Lord Robert Reed (who happens to be the President of the British Supreme Court) made clear that his resignation came as a result of the administration in Hong Kong having "departed from values of political freedom, and freedom of expression" and he and his fellow British judge, Lord Patrick Hodge, not wishing to appear to endorse the administration. Ironically, Lord Reed was actually involved in the Court of Final Appeal ruling last September that led to "Long Hair" being sentenced to an additional two weeks of jail yesterday. I wonder whether that decision has preyed on his mind in recent months, weeks or days.
As it so happens, that particular September ruling also led to another former pro-democracy Legislative Councillor, Fernando Cheung, being sent to prison for three weeks last month. This prompted legal scholar Eric Yan-ho Lai to pen a piece in The Diplomat entitled: "Foreign judges are enabling Hong Kong's legal crackdown". So, frankly, today's resignations were long overdue in the eyes of many.
Today, Lai Tweeted the following about the resignations of the two British law lords from Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal: "The resignations of Lord Hodge and Lord Reed from #HK’s Court of Final Appeal are respectable moves in light of the ongoing political suppressions in the city"; and "the @UKSupremeCourt’s statement appears to imply the resignations are votes of no confidence to the city’s administration that does not respect political freedom and free speech anymore, and the Court does not want to collaborate with the HK administration anymore".
In addition: "The language of the statement also appears to imply that the continuation of sending judges to HK would be read as an endorsement to the unjust system overall. It is also a prudent decision as they might realise they can’t do much while being in that system." In sum: "The resignations of Lord Hodge and Lord Reed inevitably signal [to] the business community in HK [concerns regarding] the integrity of the city’s legal system. It would also alert other rights-respecting jurisdictions of HK’s political and judicial environments [on] the eve of [the] EU-China Summit."