Maintain law and order at all costs

Updated: 2017-04-11 07:55

(HK Edition)

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Maintain law and order at all costs

A District Court judge on Monday sentenced a 31-year-old man to four years and nine months in prison for rioting and four years and three months in prison for arson - to be served concurrently. Yeung Ka-lun was last week found guilty on one count of rioting and one count of arson for his role in the Mong Kok riot on the night of the Lunar New Year's Day in 2016, when he joined a premeditated and organized riot in Mong Kok and set a taxi on fire. When explaining the sentence, the judge warned the public and particularly the young people against deliberately violating existing laws, which is exactly what Yeung and scores of others did more than a year ago.

Yeung's is the heaviest sentence for participants of the Mong Kok riot found guilty to date. Three others, two men and one woman, were sentenced to up to three years in prison last month. It is yet another example that Hong Kong's rule of law does not tolerate deliberate challenges, however "righteous" or "trivial" the defendants may believe they are. As the judge warned on Monday, young people bold enough to challenge the authority of the law must also own up to the criminal liability which their actions entail. That is exactly what "equality before the law" means; no one can be an exception.

Yeung's actions were serious offenses that must be punished severely to serve as a desired deterrent. It is a common practice in justice systems around the world because it is the proven way to maintain law and order in the best interests of local society as a whole. Public opinion may be split over a court ruling and sentence for different reasons but there can be only one criterion in court and that is the law. It is even more important to emphasize this particular point because Hong Kong's rule of law experienced unprecedented challenges from the illegal "Occupy Central" movement in fall 2014. This gave rise to smaller but no less damaging incidents including the Mong Kok riot.

The masterminds of such illegal activities always accuse the government of "forcing them to break the law" to attract public attention to their "plight" and sometimes managed to win sympathy from certain sections of society. That is why trials of politically motivated offenders and resulting court rulings were always met with "protests" meant to pressure the court into leniency toward the defendants somehow. Yeung's sentence is a resolute "No" to attempts to evoke law-bending sentiment with ulterior motives, because Hong Kong cannot afford to let politics compromise its rule of law.

(HK Edition 04/11/2017 page8)