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LCQ5: Mong Kok riot

     Following is a question by Hon James To and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (March 2):


     From the night on the eighth of last month (i.e. the recent Lunar New Year's Day) to the early hours of the following day, the clashes between the Police and members of the public in Mong Kok, allegedly sparked by the authorities' enforcement operations against unlicensed hawkers, eventually turned into a serious disturbance (the incident of clashes in Mong Kok). It has been reported that quite a number of people who participated in the disturbance were outraged by the prevailing political stalemate and the Government's performance in policy implementation. While people from various sectors of the community condemned the use of violence, more than 600 people (including academics, professionals and eminent persons) jointly signed a statement on the fourteenth of last month requesting the Government to set up an independent commission of inquiry to look into the sequence of events and causes of the incident of clashes in Mong Kok, and to put forward suggestions to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents.  In response to that request on the following day, the Government stated that the SAR Government did not consider it necessary to set up an independent commission of inquiry, to be headed by a judge, to look into the incident on the grounds, inter alia, that criminal investigations by the Police were underway. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) as the authorities decided to set up a commission of inquiry to look into the vessel collision off Lamma Island eight days after the occurrence of the incident, at which time the relevant criminal investigations were still underway, why the authorities do not adopt the same practice and set up a commission of inquiry to look into the incident of clashes in Mong Kok;

(2) whether the authorities have ruled out the possibility that the incident of clashes in Mong Kok was related to the Government's performance in policy implementation, the atmosphere in the community and the political stalemate; if they have, of the justifications for that; and

(3) how the authorities will alleviate the distrust in the current-term Government among some members of the public, and assuage their frustrations about the prevailing social circumstances and political stalemate, in order to prevent public grievances from escalating incessantly, which may lead to the recurrence of similar incidents of clashes?



     The riot that occurred in the early hours of February 9 this year in Mong Kok was the most serious large-scale mob violence since Hong Kong's return to China. During the incident, a vast number of rioters attacked police officers with self-made weapons and various kinds of hard objects, set fires at various locations and damaged police vehicles. Over 100 persons were injured in the incident. Most of the injured persons were police officers, while several members of the media were also injured.

     The HKSAR Government strongly condemns the acts of the rioters. As at yesterday (March 1), the Police have arrested in total 75 persons and prosecuted 48 of them for riot and one person for unlawful assembly. The Police have been making all efforts to investigate and gather evidence with a view to bringing other rioters involved to justice. The Police have also set up a hotline to facilitate provision of information related to the riot by members of the public. The HKSAR Government fully supports the Police in maintaining law and order and pays solemn tribute to the professional and fearless spirit of our police officers, firemen and ambulance personnel who stood fast to their posts in the face of danger to their lives.

     After the incident, some groups alleged that the riot was triggered by a raid on hawkers jointly conducted by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and the Police in the evening of the first day of the Lunar New Year (February 8), and that it was a matter pertaining to the governance of the HKSAR Government. In response, the Secretary for Food and Health has made prompt clarification that FEHD officers were only conducting general patrol in Mong Kok in the evening in question. They did not issue any warning nor take any enforcement action against the hawkers, let alone conducting a raid. However, they were already surrounded, scolded and pushed around by over 50 persons, causing injury to an officer. Putting the blame of the riot on hawker management policy or the governance of the HKSAR Government is merely an attempt to rationalise the violent acts of the rioters as well as to divert attention.

     After the riot, there was an opinion that the HKSAR Government should set up an independent commission of inquiry headed by a judge to conduct investigation. The HKSAR Government does not agree to this proposal.

     The Mong Kok riot was a serious violent incident. The top priority of the Police is to conduct criminal investigation with a view to apprehending all culprits for fair trials and rulings by the court. To respond to the challenges ahead, the Police have established a review committee, chaired by Deputy Commissioner of Police (Management), to examine three areas, namely, "operations", "arms, equipment and training" and "support", so as to enhance the safety and professional competency of police officers in the execution of their duties.

     The Hon James To mentioned the independent commission of inquiry set up by the HKSAR Government after the vessel collision incident near Lamma Island in October 2012. I have to stress that the collision incident and the Mong Kok riot were two incidents of entirely different nature, with the former being a marine traffic accident which led to serious casualties. The Chief Executive-in-Council decided to set up a commission of inquiry with the aim to ascertain the causes of the accident, consider and evaluate the general conditions of maritime safety concerning passenger vessels and the system of control, and make recommendations for the prevention of the recurrence of similar accidents in future.

     On the contrary, the Mong Kok riot was not a traffic accident, but an incident of serious criminal violence by rioters with a collective intention to break the law, involving offences such as riot, unlawful assembly, arson, criminal damage, assaulting police officers and possession of offensive weapon, etc. As such, the most appropriate way of handling the incident is to conduct criminal investigation, which will also look into whether there were persons behind the scene organising and planning the riot, as well as to apprehend the rioters as soon as possible and then initiate prosecution and bring them to court for trial. During the process, the public will come to know the background of the incident and the truth through open trials. Last Friday, the House Committee of the Legislative Council (LegCo) rejected a proposal requesting the LegCo to appoint a select committee to inquire into the incident. Some political and community figures also agree that it may not be necessary to set up a select committee to understand the real causes behind the riot.

     It was mentioned that following the disturbances in Hong Kong in the 1960s, a commission of inquiry was set up by the government at the time. The HKSAR Government considers it inappropriate to make direct comparison between the incident and the Mong Kok riot. Hong Kong nowadays enjoys free access to information and is a highly democratic and transparent society. Members of the public are entitled to freedom of speech and can express their opinions and aspirations on various social problems and government administration through various channels, including different tiers of councils, consultative bodies or even in the form of peaceful processions, demonstrations and assemblies etc. Individuals can also seek relief from the court to review administrative decisions of the government through legal proceedings.

     While meeting the media on February 16, the Chief Executive stated that, "The current-term HKSAR Government attaches great importance to various issues prevailing in our community. In the area of people's livelihood, we have done a lot and our efforts have delivered results...... Yet no one should resort to unlawful means, let alone violence, in expressing his demands, no matter what difficulties he is confronting in his daily life, and no matter what he thinks of the community."

     In the Chief Secretary for Administration's speech during the debate on the motion of thanks to the Policy Address at the LegCo on February 19, she stated that, "There is no perfection in governance; extensive acceptance of public opinion and continual improvement are cornerstone for good governance. However, unsatisfactory governance by the government does not mean that one can portray a heart-breaking violent incident that is shown to the public as 'a revolt against government oppression', 'fighting brutality with violence', or a police-civilian conflict triggered by government tyranny."

     The Secretary for Justice also stated on the same day at the LegCo that, "No political ideas or aspirations shall be cited as defence for violent acts."

     President, Hong Kong people all along cherish peace and rationality. Openness, diversity, freedom and the rule of law have all along been the core values of Hong Kong.  The rioters of the Mong Kok riot claimed to defend "local" characteristics with the stand of "localism", and yet they resorted to violent means that ran totally against the core values of Hong Kong. The Financial Secretary, in the concluding remarks of his Budget speech of February 24, stated that, "What we are facing today is the result of a raft of intricately-related factors...... As long as everyone is willing to set aside short-term political considerations in favour of the long-term overall interests of Hong Kong, we shall have a chance to return to rationality." I believe we all agree that violence is not a solution to problems, but only a trigger for more violence. We should definitely educate our younger generation to embrace peace and rationality and say "no" to violence and hatred.

     The HKSAR Government has all along been reviewing its work and services provided to the public and looking for improvement. The HKSAR Government will, as always, listen attentively to the aspirations of all sectors of the community and continue to improve governance to ensure that policies are geared towards the overall and long-term well-being of the public while balancing the interests and needs of various sectors. At the same time, no one should express his or her aspirations through illegal and violent acts.

     As the Secretary for Security, I am responsible for protecting public safety and public order of Hong Kong.  The reputation of Hong Kong as one of the safest cities in the world is a hard-earned achievement after years of effort by all members of our community. We cannot afford seeing this achievement being devoured. We must curb the spread of violence ideology and make a concerted effort to steer Hong Kong out of the current predicament.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:52


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