'Occupy' insults civil disobedience

Updated: 2013-07-19 06:22

By Ngan Man-yu (HK Edition)

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A former legislative councillor from the opposition camp called some district councils "government tools" for declaring their rejection of the "Occupy Central" illegal campaign. We are extremely infuriated by such a venomous attack on district councillors, who were directly elected by popular votes in authentic democratic elections. Such verbal abuse against district councils for expressing their opinions demonstrates the politician's utter disrespect for district councillors and local residents who voted for them. It is a show of political bias gone wild, to put it mildly.

Many opponents of "Occupy" have made it clear that their rejection of the unlawful movement is prompted by the negative impact on Hong Kong's political environment, economic development and the social stability it will exert. In fact, the philosophy behind it is also heavily flawed.

The leading advocates of "Occupy" have gone out of their way to paint it as a form of civil disobedience in a bid to justify the illegal act, but their reasoning only proves it is pseudo-civil disobedience at best.

The term "civil disobedience" refers to the right to resist a certain policy, law or provision of law when people feel unjustly treated or their right of subsistence is threatened by it. American philosopher John Rawls famously concluded that "a constitutional theory of civil disobedience has three parts. First, it defines this kind of dissent and separates it from other forms of opposition to democratic authority. These range from legal demonstrations and infractions of law designed to raise test cases before the courts to militant action and organized resistance. A theory specifies the place of civil disobedience in this spectrum of possibilities. Next, it sets out the grounds of civil disobedience and the conditions under which such action is justified in a (more or less) just democratic regime. And finally, a theory should explain the role of civil disobedience within a constitutional system and account for the appropriateness of this mode of protest within a free society."

Rawls maintains that only when all three parts are well established, can an act of civil disobedience be seen as justified. It's a shame the opposition camp has hardly mentioned the appropriateness of "Occupy" from this point of view, let alone proving it satisfies all the prerequisites.

An examination of "Occupy" against each prerequisite for "civil disobedience" will reveal the illegal political stunt is neither appropriate nor necessary. First of all, Hong Kong is now one of the freest societies in the world thanks to the principle of "One Country, Two Systems" and "Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong" with "a High Degree of Autonomy" as well as the Basic Law, which fully protects Hong Kong residents' constitutional rights. "Occupy" advocates have yet to prove the "injustice" they are targeting actually exists.

It is an undeniable fact that Hong Kong's constitutional reform has made headway within the framework of the Basic Law; and there is room for rational discussion over the details of the 2017 Chief Executive Election by universal suffrage. Apparently it is absolutely attainable to implement universal suffrage according to the Basic Law and relevant decisions of the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC).

Also, "Occupy" advocates have never even tried to veil their intent to inflict destructive impact on Hong Kong society with their version of "civil disobedience", using such vivid terms of violence as "paralyze Central", "paralyze the police headquarters" and "nuke Hong Kong", with a detailed plan of execution to boot. It is without question a movement with great potential for violence that will hurt Hong Kong badly by challenging and sabotaging its rule of law.

Moreover, civil disobedience is a form of protest against certain provisions of law widely seen as unjust in a free society, not the constitution. Rawls assumes an almost completely just constitution is a given in a free society and widely respected by the majority of citizens. As such he believes that civil disobedients must try their best to protest "without leading to a breakdown in the respect for law and the constitution."

Leading advocate Benny Tai Yiu-ting has cited "non-violence" advocated by Martin Luther King Jr. as an example to justify his intent to "paralyze Central" and "nuke Hong Kong" with "Occupy", but the comparison is completely wrong and deliberately confusing. The civil rights movement led by King did not target the US Constitution. On the contrary, it was his way to show respect for and protect the true spirit of the Constitution.

Tai undoubtedly intends to challenge the Basic Law and relevant decisions of the NPCSC on universal suffrage. And the Basic Law is Hong Kong's constitutional law. No one can justify "Occupy" as long as it aims to undermine the Basic Law and our rule of law.

Ngan is deputy policy spokesman for the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and a Kwun Tong district councillor. Chan Hei-kam contributed to this article.

(HK Edition 07/19/2013 page1)