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Law enforcement politicised


Editor's note: This is translated from CitizenNews' weekly digest tracking Hong Kong's political news over the past week. (一周政情:執法首長示範政治恫嚇 執法文化迅速泛政治化

Pro-Beijing mouthpieces Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po have attacked poll about Legislative Council from Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (HKPORI), which was led by Dr Chung Kim-wa. The two newspapers alleged the polls of inciting voters not to vote or voting blank vote by fielding respondents’ view on these options, hence, as they put it, has violated new election regulations.

Simon Peh, the head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), who was responsible for enforcing the election law, said he was not certain about the poll but chose to repeat the two newspapers’ rhetorics that the poll may be illegal, sending yet another warning to further pressure Chung.

Chris Tang, the secretary for security who was promoted from the commissioner of police, has separate criticised online media Stand News of “demonising” smart prison, and warned will find evidence against anyone who has endangered national security, whether they are media or non-government organisation.

These comments by two senior figures, which has the effect of political intimidation to many, reflected the culture of put politics before law and evidence within the law enforcements. 

The question posed in the public opinion poll was not only tailored for this election, but it is a standard question in election polling throughout the past 30 years. Respondents are asked about all their options, which include not voting, a blank vote or an invalid vote.

If these options are deliberately excluded , it becomes a leading question that is not objective nor scientific. But under today’s political environment, a common science in the discipline of social science is not tolerated by the Chinese Communist Party-controlled mouthpiece media and has to be scrutinised without grounds. 

What is even more pathetic is Peh made speculative political criticisms instead of stating the law or the evidence. He could have stated scientific polls will remain legal, or simply dodged the question by saying he was unclear about the specifics of the poll or needed to seek legal advice. These could well avoid exacerbating the accusations.

Instead, Peh played along the “party’s narrative” to attack the pollster. He said he did not know how the data would be used or whether it involved any incitements, so he could not rule out the possibility of breaking the law. Mainstream media swarmed Chung Kim-wah for a response if the question will be revised. Pressure has then built up on an opinion poll despite it was based on science. The saga was played into the hand of ICAC’s commissioner, which was supposed to be neutral from any politics.

Why did HKPORI’s opinion poll provoked these criticism? Judging from the contents of the poll, what may have upset the regime was that only 52% of the respondents said they would vote, a record low since the election poll was conducted in 1991. 60% of the respondents even said they did not know who are the candidates in their constituency, reflecting that the majority of the public did not care about the election. Officials may have wonder: will the figures be even worse from the second and third polls? Will these “findings”, upon extensive reporting by the media, cancelled the government’s effort to boost the turnout? 

The political purpose of the newspapers’ attack is obvious: to stop these independent polls, and the party/pro-Beijing media could dominate the public opinion to create the impression that Beijing’s electoral reform is well supported by the public. Objectivity and science have to give way to political mission. The law and law enforcement served nothing but the same purpose. This is the political reality in Hong Kong today.

If Peh's argument can be described as ambiguous and not resolute enough, Chris Tang’s remark on Stand News is a more proactive and targeted intimidation that served a political means.

Although Tang also raised a hypothesis and made clear that the warning is not directed at any individual or organisation in particular, the language is more specific and, drawing from the remark, that the force will search for evidence against anyone who SK believed to have threatened national security.

The public is well aware that once a person is charged under the National Security Law, regardless of the strength of evidence or the results of the trial, the accused will face prolonged detention and risk property frozen.  Even if they eventually cleared their name after trial, the damage cannot be undone. Because of this feature of the national security case, what Chris Tang said carried a credible threat. 

Moreover, Chris Tang's warning was not abstract. He was clearly responding in the context of the two news reports from Stand News. The first story was about the smart prison at the Tai Tam Gap Correctional Institution (TTGI), which uses face recognition artificial intelligence and data monitoring bracelets to enhance the surveillance of persons in custody, while another one about the clashes in CUHK in 2019, where Tang wrongly claimed police did not break into CUHK. Immediately after naming the Stand News report, he made the warning to find evidence against anyone who violated the law and endangered national security. The warning was clear and strongly targeted.

It would effectively mean that a media organisation may risk being found as enemy of the state by running negative reports contrary to authorities narratives. How can the media stay away from that, should they even censor any negative reports about the disciplinary forces?

Tang's political smearing, based on two negative reports, goes far beyond warning from law enforcement in the absence of any concrete evidence. In the past, only pro-Beijing mouth piece would run these commentaries that put politics above all, but now it was uttered by the secretary for security. These remarks are clear sign of rapid politicisation of the law enforcement culture in Hong Kong!