Arrests show the danger to independent police and judiciary.
most world cities, protest organizers who managed to keep a crowd of
half a million marchers peaceful and law-abiding would be hailed as
heroes. Not in Hong Kong. Last week police arrested five leaders of the
protest march July 1 on charges of . . . walking too slowly.
The legal harassment of Hong
Kong's pro-democracy movement is petty but paradoxically may be useful.
It neatly encapsulates how the city's way of life is under threat from
Beijing. And because it will further anger local people, turnout at
future protests is likely to increase.
Kong's prosperity and attractiveness depend on an impartially
administered rule of law, guaranteed by an independent judiciary. The
predictable enforcement of contracts explains why the former colony
remains China's largest financial center despite government efforts to
That legal foundation is now
under threat.And Hong Kong people know it: Some 1,800 of the city's
lawyers dressed in black and marched to the Court of Final Appeal on
June 27 to protest a central government white paper that called judges
"administrators" who must"love the country."
Orwellian language would be less threatening if it weren't for periodic
comments by Beijing officials that suggest judicial independence is not
valued and even resented. When China's current supreme leader Xi Jinping
visited the city in 2008, he asked the three branches of government to
"support each other, intimately coordinate [their work] and concentrate
their energy on developing the economy."
Beijing has stepped in several
times to overturn court judgments of which it disapproved. The most
important case arose in 1999 when the Court of Final Appeal ruled that
Hong Kong's Basic Law gave children born on the mainland to a Hong Kong
parent the right to live in the city. The National People's Congress
promptly reinterpreted the Basic Law to exclude the children.
recently, Beijing officials and pro-Beijing voices within Hong Kong have
begun to call on the police to crackdown on protesters. Under
Andy Tsang Wai-hung, commissioner since 2011, the police have responded
with greater force and more detentions, including against journalists
and peaceful protesters. Last year a U.S. State Department report accused the police of using abusive and aggressive tactics. NPC Chairman Zhang Dejiang praised them for protecting national security and social order.
That's hard to credit since
triad groups have targeted Beijing's critics for violent reprisals. In
February, newspaper editor Kevin Lau Chun-to was nearly stabbed to death
on the street. The following month, two media executives were beaten
up. A group calling itself Care for the Youth Group Association has
begun to harass with impunity the Falun Gong religious group, which is
banned in China.
Hong Kong police and judiciary still have deep reserves of
professionalism within their ranks that make it impossible for the
Chinese Communist Party to lock up dissenters as it does on the
mainland.Nevertheless, it has begun to undermine their independence at
the margin. The realization that what has made Hong Kong unique is under
threat has led to sadness and anger. Beijing ignores this at its peril.