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Well it has taken a long time but there is more joy over one sinner that repenteth, etc, so let us welcome our government’s discovery of the word “sorry”.

During the last three months of disorders apologies have been thin on the ground. First aiders, reporters and other by-standers have been shot, and suspects beaten on live television. Guantanamo-worthy stories have emerged from a mysterious detention centre in the New Territories. Suspects have been pursued into hospital casualty departments, apparently in accordance with the time-honoured theory that anyone who has been injured in a protest should be charged with something, in order to discredit the subsequent complaint.

Yet the only apology, from the Chief Secretary, was for the occasion when the police walked away from a gang attack on an MTR train. And the reaction to this from the police unions was so vigorous that the CS then apologised for apologising.

All this left me quite unprepared for the official reaction to the police water cannon bombarding the front steps of the Kowloon Mosque with blue die. Suddenly spectacular apologies were the order of the day. The Chief Executive in person turned up, with the Commissioner of Police in tow, at the afflicted installation.

In fairness to other religions there was also an apology somewhat later, and somewhat less enthusiastic, to St Andrews Church, just down Nathan Road, which was also treated to a new blue colour scheme.

Police spokesmen managed to look contrite, although I was not impressed by their follow-up idea, which was to dig a superintendent out of a department which has nothing to do with riots or water cannons to offer an unlikely excuse. This was apparently based on the idea that Muslims would be more likely to swallow a cock and bull story if it was related by someone surnamed Mohammed.

Unfortunately no officer surnamed Christ was available to explain the dousing of St Andrews.

In fact it seems that the Kowloon Mosque is getting a unique level of service: visit from police PR lady, apology in person from Carrie, detailed if implausible explanation at police press conference. You wouldn’t get that if they had doused you, and neither would I.

I will not explore the evidently peculiar feelings that our leaders nurture about Muslims.

One must, though, sympathise with one of the people who was standing in front of the Mosque at the wrong moment, who refused to accept the explanation that it was entirely “an accident”. I realise we should be slow to rush to judgement on the basis of video clips, but the one in this case (visible here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPsgFws3-ic) doesn’t leave much room for doubt. The water cannon truck lumbers up the road, it stops, it squirts, it lumbers on.

The mosque is a large and distinctive building. Clearly it was not the target. The target was the people standing in front of it. They were not protesting, still less rioting. Some of them were reporters, some of them Muslims who were there to protect the Mosque.

Just a routine dousing of by-standers then. Nothing to see here. Move on.

We are left with some further evidence of a fact which has been obvious for some time. Contending with street protests is difficult, but not as difficult as our police people sometimes make it look. This is because their training and practice puts more emphasis on gung ho applications of force than on restraint and self-control.

Clearly there is some awareness of this. One of the recurring themes of those videos on which we are urged not to rush to judgement is the spectacle of sergeants and mates restraining colleagues who are about to lose it.

Translated into water cannon terms this means that there is a temptation to ramp up what is going down the nozzle. Water is harmless. So water is for wimps. Why squirt water when you can squirt blue die laced with pepper spray?

Well actually there is a good answer to this question. Pepper spray is not dangerous to healthy adults, but if it is sprayed randomly in open spaces there is no guarantee that healthy adults will be the only recipients. So it should be used sparingly, if at all.

Similarly the blue die looks spectacular, and no doubt is more satisfying if you are watching from inside the truck, but it has the disadvantage that it will impose pollution on people and buildings who have done no harm and are not breaking the law.

It was nice of the police to volunteer help with cleaning the Mosque, but how many other buildings have been arbitrarily treated to the blue rinse? Again, nobody will say there are no circumstances in which blue die is useful, but they are heavily outnumbered by the circumstances in which it is unnecessary and resoundingly tactless.

One of the guardians of the Mosque now says he has changed his view of the Hong Kong police, of whom he used to be a loyal supporter. He has, alas, plenty of company.






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An ominous new tune has appeared in the repertoire of the Hong Kong government’s chorus of approval.

Organisations of all kinds are being told that it is not enough to be silent on Hong Kong’s current problems. They have an obligation to speak out against violence. This is a polite way of saying they should speak out against rioters. The other violence is acceptable.

This started, I think, with a Mr Edwin Choy, who tried to get the Bar Association to issue a formal condemnation of violence and, having failed, resigned as Vice Chairman of the Association to take his complaint to the general public.

This idea has now been taken up by less learned pens, and directed in an increasing number of directions.

I must say that Mr Choy, though I respect his willingness to stand up publicly for his views, seems to have some odd ideas. The Bar Association is a fine body of men and women, no doubt, but I do not think there are many people in Hong Kong who regard it as a persuasive source of ethical advice.

Will the average rioter, on hearing that the Bar Association disapproves of his activities, feel compelled to drop his plastic pole and go home? Will the proverbial man on the Shau Kei Wan tram be swayed from his sympathy for the water people by the thought that his views are not shared by some of Hong Kong’s most expensive lawyers?

I realise the Bar Association is near the beginning of the alphabet, so we may be seeing the mere tip of an iceberg, as the forces of obedience work their way from the Automobile Association to the Zoological Gardens Fan Club in search of societies they can persuade to take a stand for law and order.

The consensus among contributors to the pro-Carrie press seems to be that the disorders are subsiding gradually, and this process can be speeded up if the general population is persuaded to be turned off by violence.

A rather up-market version of this thesis appeared in the China Daily under the name of Ms Christine Lo. It was quite persuasive, until you got to the authority for the theory that things were quietening down, which turned out to be none other than that model of sanity and sagacity Mr Donald Trump.

Well I have two misgivings about the latest trend, one concerning the Bar Association and one concerning societies generally.

As far as the Bar Association is concerned it is, as Mr Choy would presumably argue, a buttress and supporter of the Rule of Law, and should be against activities which break the law.

As no doubt it is. We have not, though, been treated to regular, or even occasional, comments from the Bar Association on the iniquities of whichever felonies are currently fashionable, and I do not think we should.

As officers of the court, it behoves barristers to observe the polite fiction that anyone arrested by the police is innocent until found guilty in a court of law. As there have been few completed trials for violent offences committed in the course of the current disturbances Mr Choy seems to be asking for a mass jump to conclusions on the strength of media reports.

I am not personally in favour of violence and I am too old for that shit anyway, but if I was an alleged rioter I would prefer not to be told in advance of the hearing that the Bar had arrived at a joint view that I and people like me were guilty.

As far as societies in general are concerned, no doubt some of them lean one way politically and some of them lean the other. But quite a lot, I am sure, would rather be allowed not to explore their members’ views on such matters.

If people join your club to explore shared interests then it is a good idea to avoid divisive topics not relevant to those interests. I do not know who is working his way down the list of societies but I would like to save him a letter: the Hong Kong Scottish Piping and Drumming Association is not willing to express a view on political topics.

There is a serious point here. We are constantly told that there must be some restrictions on freedom of speech, which is true. But we do not need restrictions on non-speech. The suggestion that people must speak out on a particular topic in a particular way is reminiscent of one of the many depressing periods in China’s history, when the Party demanded not only obedience but adulation.

A victim at the time observed that he was not only not free to speak; he was also not free not to speak.  Let’s not go there.

Personally I hate violence. The problem with condemning it in our situation is that you need to offer an alternative to people who think the present leadership of Hong Kong is incompetent and dangerous, a view widely shared.

They tried non-violence on an epic scale. It was water off a duck’s back. Eventually a selection of alleged “ring-leaders” were jailed. Then we had an attempt at using the political machinery. It was repelled by a barrage of disqualifications.

So here we are. I wish I had an alternative I could suggest to the people who are now blocking streets and smashing the MTR’s Octopus machines. I don’t. Does Mr Choy, I wonder?



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I note what I think is an interesting new ritual. When the government holds a press conference it is preceded by what is technically known as a photo op.

This means that all the top officials present – it usually seems to be either the entire Exco or the entire collection of secretaries – line up in two rows to be photographed by the assembled press people.

The photographers present all obligingly flash away. I am not sure why – most media outlets have plenty of pictures of these people as individuals and the group shot is very uninspiring.

This is partly because it is the sort of group pose that serious news photographers are taught to avoid: two rows of people, shoulder to shoulder, looking in front of them. This is barely acceptable for a picture of a victorious football team.

Unfortunately the assembled official line-up does not look like a victorious football team. Of course they must all look serious. But when forced to gaze at the assembled papparazi the odd hint of hostility creeps in. Suits in shades of grey do not help.

The overall effect is not so much of an efficient team ready for action as a casting call for bit parts in the next Resident Evil movie.

This seems to be connected to a change in the oratorical style of our leader. It seems Mrs Carrie Lam has restrained her ambition to be a “proactive official doing good things for Hong Kong.” All new initiatives are now attributed to lengthy and profound thought by “the government team”.

I am not sure that this produces a great increase in confidence. Beholding the assembled team brings back so many happy memories. There is the Financial Secretary (“blame my wife”) the Secretary for Justice (“what swimming pool?”) the Chief Secretary (“I apologise for apologising”) and of course the Chief Executive (Ou est le papier?)

This little squirt of French, if I may digress for a moment, is from what I am fairly confident is the only song about the absence of toilet paper. Words and music here: https://www.horntip.com/mp3/1960s/1963_why_was_he_born_so_beautiful__sportsdisc_records_(LP)/06_a_frenchman_went_to_the_lavatory.htm

The government team, like Mrs Lam, has moderated its ambitions of late, and now aspires, it seems, only to an end to violence, on the dubious assumption that after this has happened Hong Kong will be like it was before June.

Well we all deplore violence, though not enough, I fear, to listen in comfort to hearing it denounced by the police spokesman at their daily press do. Hearing a senior policeman denouncing violence is like hearing Hannibal Lector denouncing cannibalism. We agree, of course, but…

Anyway there is a point which seems to have escaped the “government team”, or at least that part of it which stays to sit behind a desk and do the actual press conference. About half the team mysteriously disappears after the photograph, which as a result seems to be a rather serious waste of some people’s time. Is it intended just to share the blame?

You cannot, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed, step into the same river twice. We now know what we did not know before: about Cathay Pacific, about the MTR, about the police force, and of course about Mrs Lam and her team.

The violence and vandalism are not the disease – they are symptoms. The disease is a government which has lost the consent and approval of the people it governs. The cure for this is to reform abuses and redress grievances.

There must be some members of the “government team” who are perfectly well aware of this. From time to time we are treated to carefully phrased explanations that decisions have to consider “the China factor”, or the Chief Executive is “not responsible only to Hong Kong.”

In other words, they know what ought to be done but they are not allowed to do it. It is perhaps a tribute to the care and caution which goes into the selection process that the entire team seems to be willing to go on working, or pretending to work, on this basis.

Is there none among you, one might ask, with the gumption to stand up and say out loud what many are no doubt thinking in private, which is that Hong Kong is going to hell in a handbasket because the decisions made in Beijing have very little connection to the facts on the ground here?

This would of course have to be followed, or perhaps preceded, by a resignation, leading to loss of earnings, no more free parking in Central, much diminished chance of Bauhinia Medal in any colour you haven’t already got and no hope of a regular free trip to Beijing for the NCPCC meeting.

It might, though, do something for one’s self-respect. Many years ago reluctant recruits were urged to consider their future answer to “what did you do in the war, Daddy?”

Career civil servants can of course say that they did their duty. It is harder to defend so-called policy secretaries, who are supposed to be at the helm of the ship of state, but are going to have to tell their grandchildren, if they are honest, that ”I followed orders”.

This excuse has an unhappy history.

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There was a shooting in Hong Kong on Tuesday night. The victim turned out to be a schoolboy. The shooter was a policeman.

There is video. But we should not jump to conclusions. Different people, as a police spokesman pointed out the other day, see different things in the same video.

Anyway, Hong Kong is a city enjoying the Rule of Law. This means it behoves us, as concerned citizens, to bide our time and wait until the usual procedures have run their course.

Those procedures comprise a careful and impartial investigation, followed by submission of findings of fact to lawyers, and the legal consequences which flow from the facts carefully and impartially discovered.

At this point we come to a major fly in the proverbial ointment. Generally we expect, in a society which enjoys the Rule of Law, that this careful and impartial investigation is conducted by our police force, who have the necessary skills and experience.

No doubt the police persons conducting such an investigation will strive manfully, if perhaps not with complete success, to suppress the thought that the suspect is a colleague and there, but for the Grace of God, could any police person have gone.

We need to feel confident that possible offences by police persons will be investigated with the same skill and diligence as similar offences committed by lay people.

It is difficult to maintain this level of confidence if the result of the careful and impartial investigation is announced before it has even begun.

And this is what happened on Tuesday. The blood had not dried on the pavement when the police spokesman was assuring the assembled media that the shooting was justified because the shooter felt that he or someone else was in mortal danger.

In case we were still in any doubt, the Commissioner of Police followed up, while the victim was still in the operating theatre having a police bullet extracted from his lung, with the observation that the shooting was “reasonable and lawful”.

Where does that leave Concerned Citizen, who has carefully refrained from jumping to conclusions in the expectation that the police will diligently gather the relevant facts and pass them to the lawyers, who will decide their legal implications?

It leaves him, I fear, with the distinct impression that the police force, at least in its own view, is above the law, free to decide complex legal questions on the simple basis that Our Boys Can Do No Wrong.

We must try to be understanding about this. Shooting someone is a traumatic experience, at least the first time, for the shooter – though not, obviously, as traumatic as it is for the victim.

The shooter’s friends and colleagues will, as friendly and collegial people, try to cushion the shock with some such formulae as “You just did what you had to do”, “You followed the rules”, “Any of us would have done the same thing,” and in circles where colourful language is accepted, perhaps “The mother****er was asking for it.”

This is to be expected and accepted … in private. Both those offering these assurances and the recipient will be aware at some level that in the long run an investigation may not take the same view. This can be handled later.

It is also understandable that the police management feel the need to put their side of the story after complex and confused events spreading over wide areas of Hong Kong. The video – and these days there is always video – may well be misleading. The cameras focus on the photogenic.

But these two activities should not be confused. Where an individual case is concerned it is unacceptable for the police to anticipate their own investigation by announcing the result in advance.

We may hope that the shooting will still be investigated. But the person handed this tricky job will undertake it knowing that his superiors want a particular result. Producing the wrong outcome may well blight his or her prospects in the force.

Also the police tribe can be vengeful and vindictive against those who violate its code, as in different ways John MacLennan and Yacoub Khan discovered.

Yet we need a proper inquiry by someone who will not be putting his career on the line if the result does not coincide with the Force PR line or the Commissioner’s leap to judgement.

It appears that the shooter, or his employers, are abandoning in advance the idea that the shooting was an accident, and propose to rely on self-defence or the defence of someone else in mortal peril.

This is a well-ploughed legal field. The issue does not come up often, but when it does the defendant is often expensively lawyered at the expense of a police union. As a result, self-defence or necessity as a justification for lethal force have become one of those needles on which a thousand lawyers can dance.

So we can hardly suppose that the hasty responses from the PR department or the Commissioner were based on a careful examination of factual evidence, still less a thoughtful consideration of its legal consequences.

I take no pleasure in pointing out that those responses have nevertheless done irreparable damage. Citizens who suspect that this particular shooting may have been unlawful will not be deflected from that view by swift unresearched assurances from police people who have an obvious stake in the matter. And as a result of those assurances they will have no faith in the results of whatever further investigation is undertaken.

One can only hope that the Force will bear in mind that if they actually manage to kill a schoolkid there will be an inquest, however happy they may be with their version of events.

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I am a sucker for animal pictures so it was nice to see a local horse get into the news last week. The horse concerned goes by the name of Hong Kong Bet, which is a pretty ugly name even by racehorse standards, so I shall call him HB.

HB has a handsome and intelligent face. One third of him is owned by Junius Ho, who has achieved a certain notoriety by public utterances which seemed to welcome – indeed sometimes to urge – a bout of vigilante violence as a solution to Hong Kong’s public order problems.

Some readers are probably thinking at this point that it is easy to look handsome and intelligent if the only other person in the picture is Junius Ho. Shame on you.

The story which propelled Junius and HB onto the news pages concerned a race meeting. HK was booked to run in one of the races. This was noted and commented on in resistance circles. This in turn worried the Jockey Club, which organises the race meetings here. Would the meeting attract a large and hostile crowd, leading to another preformance of the nightly teargas festival?

Or would there be attempts to spook the horses? Racehorses have been inbred for centuries. They are notoriously nervous.

The Jockey Club responded first by moving the race with HB in it to the beginning of the meeting. There may have been a hope that Mr Ho and his fellow-owners would take the hint and withdraw their horse from contention.

This did not happen. After further thought the club then decided to cancel the whole meeting.

No doubt this was disappointing to some people. I was not terribly impressed by the complaint offered by Mr Apollo Ng, an owner of several racehorses, that the cancellation had cost $100 million in tax revenue and $50 million in charitable donations. This money does not come from nowhere. Another way of looking at it is that the cancellation saved gullible punters $150 million which they would have blown on slow horses.

Another commentator (the cancellation of a race meeting is a big story in some circles, you will gather) suggested that the Jockey Club should “examine the social atmosphere before approving a horse’s application in joining a race”.

This is an interesting idea but I am not sure it would work in practice. Owning a racehorse is an expensive enterprise. Can they add a political test before the owned animal is allowed to run?

Anyway these are matters which we can leave to the racing fraternity, of whom I am not one.

What I found surprising was the take on the matter from Mr Ho, who generated a fine head of steam over the idea that the cancellation was unfair to HB. “The horse is innocent,” he said. “We can’t deprive [HB] of his right to gallop. We talk about human rights every day. Animals have their basic rights too.”

“I reiterate: Hong Kong Bet is innocent. Loving the country and Hong Kong is not a crime.”

Well nobody is suggesting that HB is the target of possible protests because he loves the country and Hong Kong. As a horse he is clearly innocent in that sense. Nobody supposes that he has political opinions, correct or otherwise.

I thought, though, that Mr Ho was getting onto dangerous territory in suggesting that animal rights should be respected and this was a violation of them.

Consider the process which eventually delivered HB to the tender clutches of the Jockey Club and his three joint owners. Firstly he is the product of the centuries of in-breeding, with consequences which we will come to in a moment.

Then he had to survive a test of suitability for high-speed racing, which has a pass rate of about 25 per cent. What happens to those who fail? Cat food.

Then, in order to prepare him for his role in increasing Mr Ho’s social prestige, they cut his balls off. He was then transported several thousand miles from his home (he was born in Australia) to Hong Kong, where he lives in a box (albeit – eat your hearts out, subdivided flat dwellers – an air conditioned one) from which he emerges only occasionally for a run … with a person on his back.

You might think that running for a few furlongs was a riskless activity but not for racehorses. It is an unnatural behaviour and sometimes produces spontaneous bleeding in the lungs.

Also the centuries of in-breeding with an emphasis on the need for speed has resulted in a type of horse which has highly developed muscles and a lightweight fragile skeleton. As a result racehorses “break down” fairly often with stress fractures or other injuries of the legs.

The usual treatment for these injuries is a bullet in the head. The polite explanation for this is that although – of course – a horse is perfectly capable of standing on three legs, if the same leg is disabled for a long time then the other one at that end of the horse has to support twice as much weight, and sometimes collapses under the strain.

Cynics will note that almost all racehorses are insured against death. Insurance against injuries causing inability to continue a racing career is more expensive and much rarer.

The incidence of terminal injuries among racehorses in Hong Kong is quite low by international standards: 1.68 per 1,000 horse/starts in 2018.  It doesn’t sound very much but it adds up. In the US, where there are a lot of racetracks, two racehorses die a day, on average. This is an avoidable risk and HB will avoid it for a while because he is apparently not going to race again until “the current unrest has come to an end”.

Meanwhile Mr Ho needs to get with the animal rights programme: animal rights means the animal should be allowed to live in the circumstances and lifestyle for which nature has equipped it. Horses in the wild walk 20-30 kilometres a day at a leisurely pace while grazing. They do not voluntarily carry other animals.

If HB has rights it is a right to be left to roam on some grassy prairie, not the right to be galloped to death so that his owners can cut a dash round the Happy Valley Members’ Bar.

Some American states are now mulling proposals to ban horse racing altogether as an unnecessary example of animal abuse. This will not happen any time soon in Hong Kong. The Jockey Club’s charitable generosity extends to animal welfare organisations, which are in consequence not terribly interested In the welfare of racehorses.

Still, I think the less racehorse owners say about animal welfare the better.

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It is difficult to generate much optimism for the up-coming “dialogue” between government and people, because so many outcomes have been ruled out from the start.

The Executive Council convenor, Bernard Chan, has said that the government has agreed that there will be no “further concessions” on the five points for which protesters have been asking.

Nothing at all. So the dialogue, supposing that anyone on the protest side bothers to participate at all, will consist of one side explaining what it wants and the other side telling them they are not going to get it.

This is not a dialogue. It’s a meaningless monologue disguised as a dialogue.

The dialogue will be the political equivalent of a baby’s dummy: they put it in your mouth, you suck it, nothing comes out of it but they hope it will put you to sleep.

Of course it is not for old fogeys like me to speak for the “water people”, but the expectation that protesters will accept the government’s latest step as justifying a reciprocal offering from them seems far too hopeful.

Machiavelli wrote that a prince can choose to be beloved, or choose to be feared, but he needs in any case to be respected. Our government has managed a tragic trifecta: it is neither loved, feared nor respected. It is time to recognise that some of the positions taken in the past few years are no longer tenable.

As Sun Tsu put it, “the general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace … is the jewel of the kingdom.” It is time for some tactful retreating.

Some of the things in the five points are, alas, not in the government’s gift. Full democracy, to start with, will have to wait for a change of weather in Beijing or an implausible change of mind from Pooh.

Some of them, on the other hand, look quite painless. What is the problem with a Commission of Inquiry? Those who have done nothing wrong, as we always told when some expansion of police powers is in the offing, have nothing to fear.

There have been such inquiries in Hong Kong before. The sky did not fall. It is true that, as Mr Henry Litton put it, it would take two years and the outcome would not satisfy everybody. So, he thought, it would be a waste of time. But this is a bizarre objection coming from a former judge of the Court of Final Appeal.

Has there ever been a case before the CFA, one wonders, which took less than two years to fight its way up the legal ladder, and left all the parties involved satisfied? This does not make the CFA a waste of time.

Ms Regina Ip thinks an inquiry unnecessary because the government’s preferred inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Committee has been reinforced by some outside figures and now has the necessary credibility. This is, alas, not true.

The IPCC has been with us for a long time. It is the place where police complaints go to die: where they are painlessly euthanised and respectfully buried. The idea that it can be transformed into a fearless investigator of police transgressions by the addition of a few fresh members of the establishment is fanciful.

A proper inquiry needs to be able to compel witnesses to attend and to offer them, in appropriate cases, immunity from prosecution as a result of anything they may admit in evidence. It needs its own research team to identify issues and relevant sources of information.

It does not matter too much if the final report does not command universal approval. The process is important. It allows people to say what they want to say in a public forum, and the media to report it. The evidence given can be tested by cross-examination and people who have something at risk in the proceedings can be legally represented.

The fact that this may result in a slow-moving legal drama running on for two years or more is not necessarily a disadvantage. Over time passions cool, monstrous slights diminish in perspective, obsessive personalities find other things to obsess about and people who have not distinguished themselves can be quietly promoted to somewhere harmless.

The case for a proper inquiry seems to be almost universally accepted outside government circles, though no doubt for different reasons. Some people would like it called something else. “Truth Commission” may be a bit ambitious for something so infested with lawyers.

Then there is the matter of definition. Are the protests, or some of them, “riots”? This ought to be a non-issue. We do not have the mainland system, where the Party identifies you as a spy, a traitor, a troublemaker or an evil cult, and the role of the court is simply to translate the identification into the language of execution or imprisonment.

In our system it does not matter whether the Commissioner of Police or the Chief Executive says that an event is a riot, because this is the matter for the courts to determine as individual cases come before them.

So it would not change anything that matters if the Commissioner, and the CE, were to “clarify” that they were using “riot” as a lay term meaning a disorderly event and were not seeking in any way to influence the judgement of prosecutors or courts.

Then there is the matter of the amnesty. Contrary to an often-repeated untruth, there is no problem with the rule of law here. Countries with civil law systems (a category in which some optimists place China) do sometimes have partial amnesties.

The usual excuse is some national celebration – the King’s birthday, or a new government, say – and the usual offering is a reduction either in percentage or length of time terms, often confined to non-violent offenders, which lets some people out and gives others an earlier release date to look forward to.

This performs a useful role in conservative societies where the judges are rather free with long sentences.

So there should be no objection to some form of amnesty in Hong Kong, though the exact terms will have to be framed carefully to avoid the appearance of unfairness.

The most tempting arrangement would be an amnesty for public order offences before a certain date. The advantage of this is that the inevitable objections from the police unions could be met with the reply that it was exactly like the amnesty which they extorted for corrupt cops in 1978.

As for democracy, a dramatic change is not on offer, but the government could withdraw some of the innovations made at its own initiative which took us further from a democratic system than we need to be to meet mainland requirements.

The government could, for example, drop the legally dubious practice of asking Returning Officers to vet candidates for elected office. This may be lawful but it is not compulsory. If a candidate meets the formal requirements laid down in the law then the sincerity with which she or he has supplied oaths, signatures or declarations should be a matter for the electorate, not a civil servant.

It could also put a rocket under the Electoral Affairs Commission, whose increasingly dilatory performance in filling vacant seats (the time taken for this process has ballooned from three months to more than a year) is an alarming problem in these days when councillors are unseated in such large quantities.

These are ways in which we can make progress not towards a democratic government, but at least towards a government which looks as if it aspires to democracy and is not devoted to frustrating every possible manifestation of it.

The question, of course, is whether we have such a government, or merely a government which is desperate for a bit of peace and quiet in the run-up to October’s national festivities. This will no doubt become clear in the next couple of weeks.

How not to do this is indicated by the progress on the first point: the withdrawal of the extradition bill. It is, we are now told, to be fully and formally withdrawn. If this had been offered in the first week, or even perhaps in the second week, of June it would have ended our summer of discontent before it started.

Instead we were told that the bill was dead. This led to an endless argument. On one side were those who thought that though described as “dead” it might rise like Tim Finnegan (relevant song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6QTwZDzak4 ) if splashed with a bit of whisky. Others thought that dead was dead and there was no need to inflict the additional indignity of burying the bill at a crossroads with a stake through its heart.

Finally the government conceded the crossroads and the stake, only to discover that formal withdrawal of the bill requires the presence of the Legislative Council, which will not meet until October.

This is a textbook example of how not to offer an olive branch. Concessions which are made slowly, reluctantly and late do not count. What is needed is some sign of a sincere and genuine change of heart. Dialogues and focus groups are not it.





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A small gap in Hong Kong’s revolutionary repertoire was filled last week: sex stories.

This is a universal feature of respectable revolutions, let alone disreputable ones: conservative observers are convinced that the revolutionaries are at it all the time, breaking the rules of sexual behaviour just as they break those of politics and law.

This casts a slightly disreputable air over what might otherwise seem an idealistic enterprise, and also appeals to a fundamental curiosity which humans share with monkeys, apes and other group-dwelling animals: who is doing it with who?

I do not doubt that such stories were told of the “sans culottes” in the 1790s. Certainly it was a recurring theme in reports of 20th century student protests, although in my years as a student protester I never saw any sign of politically sanctioned intercourse.

Of course some people did have extra-marital sex – this was the 60s – but nobody connected this with politics. In fact the more political people were, generally speaking, the more puritanical they were about sex, drugs and booze.

The rumours had a certain utility. When I was studying in Lancaster the wildest rumours had circulated about student social life and it was easy to hitch lifts, usually from men who were alone in the car and thought you might be able to wangle them an invitation to “one of them orgies”.

Hong Kong critics of the revolution have been surprisingly slow to get round to this traditional trope, but it arrived on Monday from the lips of Ms Fanny (no giggling please) Law Fan Chiu-fun, a member of the Executive Council.

Those of you who have been holding your breath waiting for this to come up can now relax and breathe more easily – or more heavily if you prefer; whatever floats your boat.

Ms Law was on a radio phone-in programme. Somebody sent in an email saying that he or she had heard a video recording posted on the internet, saying that many girls aged 13 or 14 had been told they were “angels of the revolution” and should offer free sex to comfort “the warriors”.

“You may not believe a 14-year-old girl shared her story on social media; schoolgirls like her were labelled as angels tasked to provide comfort services to frontline protesters,” the email read.

“It was the girl’s first time. The schoolgirl said she then offered services to other protesters, every time a different man. She recently found herself pregnant.”

This particular case was apparently a reference to a “letter of confession from a 14-year-old girl”, tracked down by the Standard’s intrepid reporter (thank you Cindy Wan, good work), in which the author claimed she had had sex with seven protesters, who did not use condoms, “under the influence of alcohol and marijuana”. She then became pregnant and had an abortion.

Exciting stuff, but you might think a bit sketchy. It seems that the writer of the email had read the “confession”, so this internet gem was the only evidence for the whole story. The Standard’s indefatigable Miss Wan also found a picture of a set of willing and eager “angels” in facemasks, but reported that this had already been diagnosed as a screen grab from a Vietnamese porn movie.

So the only thing this story has going for it is the “confession”. There are two problems with this. One is that, as they say, on the internet nobody knows if you’re a dog. So the author could be a remorseful 14-year-old girl, or it could be a dog, or a 40-year-old truck driver with a lurid taste in erotic fantasy, or a political mudslinger, or a Macedonian teenager who has discovered the pay-per-click racket. We don’t know.

And the timing is a bit suspicious. Street fighting didn’t really get going until the second half of June. That leaves our “angel” with a mere ten weeks or so for grooming, multiple indiscretions, discovery of pregnancy, abortion, and penning of confession.

Ms Law might in the light of this have legitimately questioned whether there was anything in the story. She might, being a well-intentioned mature lady with maternal instincts, have got away with a few warning words to youngsters about ensuring that post-riotal euphoria is not followed by post-coital regret. But she went further than that.

“We have confirmed that this is a true case,” she said. “I am so sad for these young girls who have been misled into offering free sex.”

And who, one wonders, is the “we” who have confirmed this is a true case? Is the Executive Council now investigating? Ms Law wears so many hats. Other possibilities include the National People’s Congress of the PRC, the China-US Exchange Foundation, the China Development Bank, and the Hong Kong X-Tech Startup Platform. Or could it be one of the companies of which she is a director: China Resources (Holdings) Co. Ltd. CLP Holdings Limited, China Unicom (Hong Kong) Limited, DTXS Silk Road Investment Holdings Company Limited or Nameson Holdings Limited?

No such luck. The “we” was royal. Law said the girl in question was the daughter of a friend’s friend, although she admitted that was “second-hand knowledge”.

“But it’s direct. It’s real,” she said. No it isn’t. Second-hand knowledge is not direct and real. Connoisseurs of urban myths (for whom this website is indispensable) will know that there is nothing too outlandish or ostentatiously fictitious to be passed around on the basis that “I know it’s true because my friend heard it from her friend who knows the victim.

Actually it seems the situation is a bit worse than that. Explaining herself to Avery Ng, the League of Social Democrats chairman, Ms Law said that the confirmation came from a “cruise buddy” who said that the girl in question was the daughter of a friend’s friend.

It is difficult to know what to make of Ms Law’s conduct in this matter. Clearly “we have confirmed” was misleading. “I have heard a similar rumour” might have been acceptable. She then told radio listeners that she would not receive any interviews from the press.

But later she turned up in a newspaper (not the Standard, which is often discriminated against in this manner, the other one) which reported her as saying that “people are free to decide whether or not to believe it. Of course, I can trace the origin of the information through a trusted friend’s friend who knows the girl, but to reveal more details would be traumatic.”

She also said that “Preventive advice cannot be wrong. Girls have to be alert and stay away from alcohol and marijuana in gatherings with ‘new’ friends whom they only met in various protest activities. They have to protect themselves and avoid being abused.”

With which no sensible person would disagree. But preventive advice should come in the form of advice, not lurid scare stories which stink of fiction. Notice the smooth elision from “this case” to “these young girls” in the plural.

I do not doubt that romance sometimes blossoms on the barricades. A certain number of Hong Kong girls get pregnant unintentionally all the time and with so many youngsters engaging in protests of one kind or another there will no doubt emerge individual cases in which protest and pregnancy overlap.

It is I suppose quite possible that there is one case out there in which the unfortunate victim is aged 14. But that does not justify Ms Law’s attempts to thrill the world with a pandemic of dope-fuelled statutory rape. She clearly succumbed to the temptation to descend into dogwhistle politics and discredit all the protesters by casting aspersions on their morality.

On the surface, maternal concern for young things at risk. In the understanding of many listeners the subliminal message that protesters are not only vandalising tube stations and throwing things at policemen – they may be younger and prettier than you but the men are rapists and the girls are slags.

Would she have been so eager to pass on a rumour that JPC police groupies were offering freebies to heroic constables?

It is unfair to generalise about a group from one example. I do not, for example, wish to suggest that all the members of Exco are gullible hypocrites, tempting though that theory may be. Just one of them.

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