Why 'Occupy Central' ran up the white flag

Updated: 2014-12-12 07:49

By Harry Ong(HK Edition)

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The surrender of "Occupy Central" leaders and its chief supporters is surrounded by elements of sheer cunning and a degree of confusion. If they hadn't already been charged with specific offences, were there legal grounds to lock them up? Or is the procedure in such cases for the guilty party to approach the duty sergeant at the police station and say something like: "I am hereby confessing to causing an illegal obstruction - please arrest me"?

Then if the officers arrest them on such a charge, can the persons concerned subsequently ask for bail and, following the completion of formalities, be set free until their cases come up in court? But would the charge they wish to admit be that with which the authorities intended to charge them?

If the government decided to "throw the book at them", those seen as the most culpable might be charged under the Public Order Ordinance with having organized an unauthorized assembly, the maximum penalty for which is a five-year jail term.

But if the authorities decided to "soft-pedal" the case, they might simply be charged with taking part in an unauthorized assembly, for which the customary penalty is a fine.

Don't imagine for a second that the surrender was a spur-of-the-moment decision. Since the "supremo" of the movement, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, is an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, it is sure that long hours have gone into examining the legal statutes in great detail to attempt to chart the most lenient legal pathway out of their plight.

It is eminently possible that, on a strictly unofficial basis, "feelers" have been put out between the two sides, with one of the key questions being the likely severity of any charges. Nobody pats a cobra on the head if he can toss it a dead rabbit from a safe distance instead!

It can also be assumed that it was no coincidence when a dozen of lesser lights in "Occupy" joined Tai and his fellow leaders, Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, when they surrendered to the authorities. The principle seems to be that old chestnut: "All for one, and one for all." The grand legal strategy to exculpate the "Occupy" organizers will presumably cover this group of equally contrite "Occupy" supporters. Led by Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun they include Baptist University lecturer Shiu Ka-chun, the founder of the Unison minority rights group, Fermi Wong, and nine Democratic Party members.

Reviewing events from the outset, it would appear that the "Occupy" leadership role was subsumed early in the protests by the two rebellious student groups, who have called the tune ever since. It also appears that as a result Tai and his cohorts, having been ejected from the driving-seat, have become more or less "passengers". This might explain why "Occupy" never actually reached Central but was confined mainly to the students' targets of the key government activities centered on Admiralty and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, and Mong Kok in Kowloon.

Meanwhile, although order has been restored to the streets of Mong Kok, trouble-makers there have merely switched tactics and every evening clusters of them deliberately elbow their way along the footpaths, shouting "Gou Wu" (to shop) and supposedly indulging in window-shopping expeditions actually intended to harass both genuine shoppers and intimidate the staff of department stores and other retail outfits, which usually close their doors until the hubbub moves away.

These louts say with a grin that "Hey, we're having fun - this is better than sitting on the street getting a sore backside" but their actions are a deliberate attempt to prolong their demonstration by other means.

The police, instead of being able to take a much-overdue break from their onerous duties, must stay on the job every evening in an attempt to exert some control over the "shoppers".

These fools start their tricks at a cinema on Sai Yeung Choi Street that shows trailers to attract the passing crowds to the movies. The "shoppers" wait until an eye-catching scene flashes on the advertising screen when they begin shouting in unison with the actors or the music of the film.

Chased away by police, they assemble further along and begin their harassment of shoppers and other pedestrians, laughing gleefully if they notice mainlanders scurrying back to the safety of their hotels.

The night's "fun" always concludes at the Tung Choi Street minibus terminus - operated by the public light bus company that applied for one of the injunctions that finally ended the occupation of Mong Kok streets.

Drivers and passengers are ridiculed and abused, and the police - their patience strained almost to breaking point - move in and restore order once again.

The author is a seasoned observer of Asian affairs.

(HK Edition 12/12/2014 page1)