Mockery of freedom of speech

Updated: 2013-08-07 07:18

By Chan Wai-keung(HK Edition)

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Mockery of freedom of speech

Winston Churchill once said: "Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage." Through their words and actions, our anti-Beijing lawmakers, columnists and activists in Hong Kong have always proved the truth of this adage. They want free speech for themselves, but not for those who disagree with them. Worse still, these Beijing-bashers have always twisted facts to fit into their political agendas. A case in point is their recent fierce defense of the foul-mouthed school teacher Lam Wai-sze who is a member of the anti-Beijing League of Social Democrats.

A couple of weeks ago, a video of this teacher hysterically swearing to the police intent on averting a bitter confrontation between Falun Gong practitioners and the Hong Kong Youth Care Association (HKYCA) in Mong Kok on July 14 went viral online. Meanwhile, the Junior Police Officer's Association and the Hong Kong Police Inspectors' Association issued a press release, censuring Lam for her verbal abuse.

Last Wednesday, an Apply Daily editorial penned by anti-Beijing columnist Li Yi, however, took the lead in counteracting the censure by the police, contending that the police, being politically partial, had given preferential treatment to the HKYCA members in handling the Mong Kok confrontation. Likewise, the South China Morning Post columnist Albert Cheng lambasted the police for being indifferent to HKYCA's harassment against Falun Gong members at the scene. Echoing the accusations by Li and Cheng, lawmaker Raymond Wong Yuk-man even denounced the press release by the police associations as intimidation against Lam. On Sunday, under the spell of these anti-HKYCA notions, hundreds of defenders of Lam in a massive rally sparked by the online video shouted: "There is nothing inappropriate with Ms Lam's behavior; she just spoke out against injustice, the unfair treatment of Falun Gong by the police".

The crux of the matter lies in the following questions: Did Lam really speak out against injustice on the afternoon of July 14? Did the HKYCA members really physically harass the Falun Gong group that afternoon? Did the police really "stand by and watch the Falun Gong group pestered" by HKYCA members as Albert Cheng suggested?

After interviewing a dozen of the Mong Kok residents at the scene, I, as a Mong Kok district councillor, would argue that the defenders of Miss Lam have distorted the facts about the incident of July 14.

First, the HKYCA members did not physically harass the Falun Gong practitioners on July 14 (on the contrary, according to the police, some Falun Gong members were later arrested for physical violence). Instead, they just unfurled some protest banners in front of a Falun Gong booth. On witnessing the confrontation, Lam immediately verbally abused the HKYCA members. In her view, while Falun Gong are free to say what they like, if anyone says anything back to this religious cult, that is an "outrage". Lam's view is indeed too exclusive and undemocratic. Her political ideology as well as sudden towering rages may have blinded her to the fact that, by law, any people or organizations are entitled to the right to peacefully protest against others by unfurling some banners in a public space so long as their number does not exceed 50. (In fact, the members of Falun Gong and the League of Social Democrats in the past always relished exercising this legal right to mob our national leaders, local officials and political opponents).

Second, nor did the police turn a blind eye to HKYCA's protest against the Falun Gong at the scene as Lam and Cheng suggested. According to media report, on arriving at the scene, the police attempted to persuade the HKYCA members to leave the scene with their banners. But, the HKYCA members dissented. As I have pointed out before, by law, the police were not authorized to expel the members of HKYCA as well as of Falun Gong from the area. Nor were the Falun Gong members exclusively entitled to the area without the approval of the Lands Department. As a result, the police had no choice but to seal off the area and formed a human barricade segregating the opposing sides for fear that the confrontation would turn into a scuffle.

There is no concrete evidence that the police favored the HKYCA members in the case. On the contrary, it is more sensible to argue that they, upholding the principle of political impartiality, did their utmost to avert the clash, shielding pedestrians from possible dangers.

Sadly, the anti-Beijing lawmakers and columnists have taken the view that while the school teacher is free to speak foul language to protest against what the police did at the scene, if the police associations say anything back to the teacher through a press release, that is an "outrage" and even "intimidation". Is this notion held by the lawmakers and columnists too unfair and autocratic?

To deem what the HKYCA members and the police did on the scene as unjust is too far-fetched. It was Lam as well as the anti-Beijing lawmakers and columnists who twisted the facts and made a falsehood of "injustice". To argue that "Lam spoke out against the injustice on July 14" is indeed a mockery of justice and freedom of speech.

The author is an educator and a Yau Tsim Mong district councillor.

(HK Edition 08/07/2013 page1)