Why leniency should be shown to 7 jailed officers

Updated: 2017-02-24 07:14

By Chow Pak-chin(HK Edition)

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Chow Pak-chin writes that public respect for police efforts in making HK one of the safest places in the world is a good reason for shorter sentences to result from their appeal

When jail sentences were announced last week for the seven police officers accused of assaulting "Occupy" protestor Ken Tsang Kin-chiu, thousands gathered to express support for the seven convicted police officers and their families and friends. While I was not physically there, I am in support of a more lenient jail sentence from the appeal - the filing of which is currently allegedly under consideration.

Make no mistake, I believe the actions of assault inflicted onto Ken Tsang by the seven law enforcement officers are punishable by law, and I have all due respect for the judge of this contentious court case. However, as the magistrate who sentenced Tsang in a separate trial said, the "Occupy" protestor was provocative in his intentions by pouring liquid over police officers. This is not to mention the fact that he was one of the participants of an illegal campaign that seriously disrupted the law and order of our society, the repercussions of which are still evident two years on.

Why leniency should be shown to 7 jailed officers

To quote Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung, the two-year jail sentence given to each of the seven convicted officers is a "serious incident and is unprecedented". It is serious because it affects the entire police force, not only in terms of morale - which has already been dwindling from the "Occupy" movement and Mong Kok riot - but also police officers' handling of similar incidents in the future. Take, for instance, the case of a provocative act imposed by a civilian on a police officer: What kind of force by the police officer would be considered "appropriate" in future, now that we have put the seven officers behind bars for two years for assaulting a provocative protestor? If we're asking for a tamer police force, then perhaps we all might need to brace ourselves for the celebration of mobsters disguised as "freedom fighters" in society in the future. Likewise, it probably doesn't defy common sense to expect inaction or delayed law enforcement from police officers in future, should there be similar incidents such as a mass demonstration gone awry or even physical assault, whether it be civilian on civilian or civilian on law enforcement officers. Should we expect law enforcement officers to refrain from releasing or delay releasing tear gas to disperse a belligerent crowd? Should we expect law enforcement officers to refrain from direct confrontation with mobsters, no matter how critical the situation is? I'm aware how preposterous this may sound, yet it seems to be the way "forward" for the city's law enforcement units now such a punitive precedent has been set.

I believe I am by no means the only one who agrees with the police commissioner that the Hong Kong Police Force was not duly prepared for the unprecedented 79-day "Occupy" movement, neither was the force prepared for the physically and mentally taxing 15-hour shifts each police officer had to undertake during the protests. Naturally, there was fatigue, there was frustration, there was even anger when a considerable number of frontline police officers were assaulted and verbally abused for doing what they had to do to maintain what little order there was in the city, while inadequate resources and manpower only compounded the psychological stress - yes, psychological stress, because police officers are humans too; they are flesh and blood like us.

Leaving aside whether the two-year jail term is excessive, let's not forget that the teen who hurled a brick at a police officer in the Mong Kok riot just last year was only given 18 months' probation. Thus, a person with intent to cause grievous bodily harm was only put on a year and a half of probation time! Ken Tsang, in a separate trial, was only sentenced to five weeks in jail for his provocative assault against police officers.

As the verdict was announced for the seven police officers, there were protesters present who insulted the judge, David Dufton, with profanity. Such deplorable acts of contempt of court need to stop, regardless of whether the sentence is too harsh. With an appeal for the case likely to happen, I hope a more lenient sentence will help to salvage the morale of the police force. Call me naive, but I trust that the majority of Hong Kong's police officers are entitled to the utmost respect in making Hong Kong one of the safest cities in the world.

(HK Edition 02/24/2017 page1)