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The case of Ken Tsang:all persons equal before the law, but some more equal than others?

2015/4/20 — 15:18

In the early morning of 15 October 2014, a rare and shocking scene was broadcast on television news: seven police officers taking part in a clearance operation during the Umbrella Movement appeared to drag a protester, Ken Tsang (曾健超), to a dark corner and give him a good bashing.

Six months after the incident, the police officers have still not been charged – and even their names and identities have not been confirmed by the authorities. Dissatisfied with the lack of progress, Tsang launched a judicial review to compel the police force to disclose the suspects’ identities.

At a hearing for the judicial review, the police blamed Tsang for refusing to participate in procedures to identify the suspects. On the other hand, Tsang's barrister explained that it was the police who proposed an unusual identification procedure which effectively gave favourable treatment to the suspects. 

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But in any event, even without Tsang’s participation, it is difficult to believe that the authorities would have any serious problem in identifying the suspects. After all, the assault was shown on television; the police would undoubtedly have records of which personnel were deployed that night; and the police would likely have taken videos and photographs during the clearance operation.

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In fact, all indications are that the police have known for some time which seven officers may have participated in the alleged assault. As announced by the police, seven suspects were suspended from duty on 16 October 2014, interviewed by the Complaints against Police Office (CAPO) on 24 October 2014, and then arrested on 26 November 2014.

The “Victims Charter” (罪行受害者約章) adopted by the Hong Kong government promises that a victim of crime will be kept fully informed of the progress of his case (unless that would harm the investigation). In Tsang’s case, however, the police have refused to inform him about the identity of the seven suspects which they have arrested. During the judicial review hearing, Tsang’s barrister highlighted another  failure by the authorities to uphold the Victims Charter: despite repeated inquiries, the police will not even say whether they have obtained the original tape recording of the news broadcast showing the assault – potentially the most crucial piece of evidence in this case.

One would expect that in a civilised society founded upon the rule of law, the police would strive to restore the public's trust by acting swiftly and impartially in response to an outrageous display of apparent police violence recorded on camera. It is especially important that the investigation is conducted with a high degree of transparency and accountability when it is effectively the police who are investigating their own brethren.

However, six months after the incident, no charges have been laid. Not only Mr Tsang, but also the Hong Kong public, deserves a full and candid explanation from the authorities as to why the court process has not begun even though the apparent assault was vividly captured and widely broadcast on television.

In stark contrast to Tsang’s case, numerous protestors who took part in the Umbrella Movement have already been charged, convicted, or acquitted. In the absence of cogent explanations from the authorities, there is serious reason to question whether the comparative lack of progress in Tsang’s case is due to the fact that the suspects are police officers.

Another notable contrast is provided by a recent case that gained considerable attention in the United States. Earlier this month, a video emerged of white police officer Michael Slager shooting and killing a fleeing, unarmed black man in the back. Slager was charged with murder within days. The assault on Tsang was also recorded on video – so why have no charges been brought after six months?

The fundamental value which underpins the rule of law is equality before the law: no one can break the law and escape unpunished simply because of his position within society. The biggest threat to the rule of law is not those who break the law, but those in power who do so with impunity.

In George Orwell's allegorical novel Animal Farm, the animals on a farm, led by the pigs, overthrew the human owner and then adopted the Seven Commandments of Animalism, the most important of which was: "All animals are equal." Years passed under the leadership of the pigs who started to resemble humans and rule the other animals. The Seven Commandments were reduced, and corrupted, into a single principle: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". The animals are told by their dear leaders, the pigs, that that had always been the rule from the beginning, only that it had slipped the animals’ minds.

Contrary to its original subtitle (“A Fairy Story”), the story told by Animal Farm is the naked truth. If those in power keep bending the rules to suit their will, it is only a matter of time before that “fairy story” becomes the reality of the Hong Kong people.

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