立場新聞 Stand News

The Courage of Ordinary People, and its Opposite

2015/4/16 — 13:00

Whatever one might think about the merits of the Umbrella Movement, it certainly revealed aspects of ourselves as individuals – and as a society – which should give us cause for optimism. 

Two weeks ago, a student protestor, Ho Pak-hei (何柏熙), was acquitted of assaulting a police officer during the protests. What is important to highlight is the shining example of courage, determination, and civic spirit that was shown by an ordinary Hong Kong couple during the trial.

Ho was attending the protest in Mong Kok when he was accused of punching a police officer in the mouth. When he was being arrested, Ho shouted out his own name (in accordance with the advice of volunteer groups). In Ho’s case, the action proved to be particularly effective: a retired couple who had filmed the whole event was able to take note of his identity.

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However, it is not easy for an ordinary bystander to assist in defending a suspect. The couple only realised that Ho was going to be prosecuted when one of their friends happened to read a small press article about Ho’s arrest. However, the couple had no way to contact Ho. The couple had no choice but to physically go to the Magistrates’ Court on the day of Ho’s trial to ensure they could deliver their evidence to Ho’s defence counsel. Even then, it requires an immense amount of courage to volunteer to be a witness and to be subjected to vigorous cross-examination by a prosecutor. 

This small but courageous act was done by an ordinary retired couple who decided they could not stand by and let an innocent teenager be convicted for something he did not do. The names of the retired couple are Yeung Chui-ping (楊翠萍) and her husband, Helbert Lau. They are the type of heroes with exactly the civic spirit that Hong Kong needs in order to develop as a fair and just society.

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This sequence of events demonstrated many aspects of Hong Kong society that we should be very proud of: the civic spirit of an ordinary couple; the Duty Lawyer Service (當值律師服務) which offers legal representation to those who cannot afford it; the principle of “open justice” which allowed the press to report on the trial and highlight the acts of the couple; and the willingness of the magistrate to decide on the case without fear or favour (which, in this case, involved chastising the police officer as an unreliable witness).

But there is always a flip-side.  For every act of courage by ordinary people, there is an act of cowardice by those in power. We applaud those who are in positions of weakness and take a stand against the odds, no matter how difficult, to ensure justice is done. But we also condemn those who abuse their positions of power to prey on the weak, and then hide themselves as just another cog in the government machinery.

Society places considerable trust in our police officers and government officials, and they do need a range of powers in order to enforce law and order efficiently. But when that trust and power are abused, it is crucial for the abuse to be addressed in a transparent and efficient manner.

If a case against a protestor can be brought to trial, based on one police officer’s testimony, within 6 months, why has it been so difficult to make progress in investigating the suspected assaults by police officers against Ken Tsang (曾健超) and Osman Cheng (鄭仲恆), which were shown on live television? It is exactly because we entrust our police officers with extensive powers that any abuse of those powers must be remedied swiftly and transparently. Otherwise, it is impossible to preserve the trust that we place in the police.

Ho’s acquittal and the acts of the elderly couple gave us an opportunity to celebrate the courage of ordinary people. One day, we also hope to celebrate the courage of those in positions of power to admit their mistakes.

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