‘Mongkok riot’ trials reveal a political agenda to deter the younger generation from resisting repression
Dikang, Socialist Action
Hong Kongers young and old have been shocked and outraged by the six-year jail sentence served on former localist activist Edward Leung Tin-kei. Leung’s eight co-defendants at the ‘Mongkok riot’ trial on June 11 also received similarly harsh sentences. Lo Kin-man, who like Leung was convicted of rioting, was jailed for seven years.
These sentences are unprecedented. They are in many instances more severe than those served on leaders of the 1967 Hong Kong riots, in which 51 people were killed and more than 1,000 bombs were exploded.
Socialist Action has never advocated or supported rioting as a method of political struggle. But in common with most ordinary people we do not accept the government’s version of what happened in Mongkok. The government has repeatedly refused a commission of enquiry into what happened, as was the case after the 1956 and 1967 riots.
A riot “is the language of the unheard” to quote Martin Luther King. It usually signifies that organised and collective struggle – the antithesis of a riot – have for one reason or another been defeated or derailed.
The term ‘riot’ was affixed to the unrest of Lunar New Year 2016 by former Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. This was part of his regime’s political vendetta against the democracy movement. Specifically, the government sought to exploit the Mongkok events to crush the localists (Hong Kong nationalists), knowing this could also be used to attack the opposition as a whole. Top Beijing officials went even further (naturally), saying the Mongkok disturbances were “terrorism”. Leung Chun-ying wrote a venomous post on Facebook at the time that in other countries the police would have shot to kill.
Unfortunately, the localists made themselves an easy target for government repression. This is because of their loose, poorly organised character and lack of a real social base (there is a big difference between online rage on social media and real numbers prepared to join an organised movement).
Also, the political hostility towards others such as ordinary mainlanders (racism) and the wider democracy movement (sectarianism), which is a feature of all the main localist groupings, leads to their isolation. It is perhaps not accidental that Edward Leung, in preparing his defence and attempting to mobilise opinion in the hope of getting a more lenient sentence, has to some extent distanced himself from localism and turned to the pan-democrats for support.
While localist ideas are still widespread among young people and indeed can grow as a result of the endless political crimes of the pro-Beijing capitalist establishment, localism is likely to remain an unorganised and “leaderless” trend rather than a real threat to the dictatorship.
While Socialist Action opposes the political ideas and methods of the localists, we have no hesitation in denouncing the ‘Mongkok riot’ trials and the savagery of the sentences as a travesty of justice.
The trials are being used by the government to crush not only localism, but to intimidate the younger generation as a whole. This is linked to the new law criminalising “disrespect” of China’s national anthem and the Education Department’s revival in another form of its school brainwashing curriculum. The government’s message is that “radicalism” will be punished and that resistance to the authoritarian system is impossible. This is the method of autocratic regimes everywhere, but it will not succeed.
‘Mongkok riot’ trials: A travesty of justice
The ‘Mongkok riot’ trials have produced some of the most severe sentences ever handed out by Hong Kong courts relative to the severity of the offences.
Unlike in the riots of 1956 and 1967, nobody was killed in Mongkok. There were no cases of looting nor was there significant destruction to property. All the anger was focused on the police. This can only be understood against the background of the Umbrella Revolution, 18 months earlier, with the police under government orders to play a more openly political and aggressive role.
So far 25 people have been found guilty for their part in the Mongkok unrest. The combined prison sentence for these 25 defendants is a staggering 71 years. Of the 18 found guilty of the charge of ‘riot’ the average sentence is three years and 8 months. In the 1956 riots, in which 59 people died, the maximum sentence for ‘riot’ was two years.
Mo Jia-tao, who was sent to prison for 4 years and three months at his trial in May, was 17-years of age and therefore a minor at the time he was arrested. Another defendant, an autistic man, received a sentence of two years and four months against the advice of his probation officers.
Few outside the hardcore pro-Beijing establishment believe Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s statement that there are “absolutely no political factors” involved in these trials and the six-year sentence for Edward Leung. These trials are part of a campaign – dictated from Beijing – to strike hard at the entire democracy struggle.
Like all repressive systems, these measures will ultimately backfire on their authors. The role of the state in Hong Kong, the police, courts, the ‘parliament’ (if we can call it that) and nominally ‘impartial’ election officials, are being exposed as tools of a brutal and corrupt regime. The public perception of the police was permanently damaged by the Umbrella Revolution, when police tactics reached an unprecedented level of thuggery and illegality.
In the same way, the blatant use of the law courts against democracy activists, as well as the disproportionately severe punishments for Edward Leung and his co-defendants, is producing similar anger and loss of any faith in the judicial system especially among youth.
These historically significant developments must be highlighted as part of the necessary rebuilding of a mass democracy struggle. This struggle needs a socialist approach to succeed – a revolutionary approach – showing that the entire capitalist system and its state is undemocratic and corrupt. Today’s repression can only be defeated not by ‘reforms’ and tinkering with the system, but by sweeping it away once and for all.