The one major, fundamental weakness of democracy is that it heavily relies on people’s intellect and ethics, but in certain situations, people’s decisions and judgements are often whipped up by their emotions, prejudice and bias. It is precisely because of this fundamental weakness that critics of democracy in the West, and in authoritarian political states such as Hong Kong and China, often cite to discredit the desire for democratic governance. In Hong Kong, politicians on both sides of the divide often makes the claim that people are victims of populism, which they define as decisions and judgements, and demands whipped up by emotions, bias and the mentality of “us versus them”. While many of their claims are false due to their own bias blinding them to the reasons and arguments given by their opponents, there are often cases in society in Hong Kong and the world at large that do fit their criticism, fuel to their argument against democracy that mislead people for support.
Just last month, there was much ado online in regards to a claim that an eatery in Yuen Long was selling dog meat (which is illegal in HK), with the originator of the claim even supplying a photograph of a cooked animal carcass as their supporting evidence. The Facebook post went viral amongst Hong Kong Facebook users, with one page adding oil to the fire by citing so-called animal experts allegedly confirmed that the carcass indeed belongs to a dog. Eventually, Roy Kwong from the Democratic Party became involved, calling on various government authorities to investigate that matter, but in the end it was declared that the eatery had NOT been selling dog meat. Despite being declared innocent, the shop owner suffered greatly as he was forced to close down for days whilst the investigation was underway, which means losing days of income and means to pay for the shop’s upkeep. Despite having wronged an innocent man and doing him a great injustice, Roy Kwong did not offer an official apology; instead he visited the eatery in question, claim to have made peace with the owner, took a few photos and posted them online saying he had tried to make amends for a grave mistake. In truth though, the staff of the eatery posted on the eatery’s Facebook page stating that Kwong had not made any form of an apology nor was any peace made, that the owner treated Kwong as any other customer when he had every right to send Kwong on his way with a broom. As if that was not enough, the original person who uploaded the photo - an animal protection activist named Ho Loi – offered no apology for her mistake in committing an injustice, instead turning the argument around in criticising the shop owner for laying an animal carcass in the open, stating that it’s unsightly and unhygienic, then proceeding to say that it’s wrong to eat meat anyways, in order to defend her act of putting an innocent eatery shop owner’s livelihood on the line.
The reason that this case of injustice went so out of hand is precisely due to a fundamental weakness of democracy introduced at the start of the article, the chief cause of which is basically laziness and being trigger-happy in dispensing judgement despite their lack of information, borne out of people’s unwillingness to find out the facts to the situations, instead delegating it to someone else to tell them what to think and how to judge. Yet there can be no smoke without fire so to speak, so why were people so quick to convict the eatery owner of selling dog meat? This could be attributed to the ever increasing number of Chinese immigrating to Hong Kong from China, bringing with them their practices with disregard for Hong Kong’s cultural conventions and sensibilities, and the authorities’ turning a blind eye to them or even defending their practices. In such an environment, people began to feel that they need to take it upon themselves to defend their cultural territory against the Chinese corrosion of Hong Kong society; but unfortunately these vigilante-activists often turn things into a witch-hunt, with complete disregard to the maxim central to the Rule of Law in any society claiming to be democratic: innocent until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.
An even earlier case which highlighted people no longer adhering to that maxim despite claiming to defend the Rule of Law is the supposed suicide of a man allegedly involved in a rape case in the Kowloon Bay area. The crime had supposedly taken place on a footbridge in Kowloon Bay not long after midnight that began as a simple robbery, where the female victim claimed that she had her mobile phone snatched from her as she walked home; but having cornered the thief, the man turned upon her and raped her. The news media immediately jumped to conclusions, declaring that the suspect must be the culprit as he was unemployed and having had a criminal record for robbery and burglary, despite the victim had not yet been through the identification process nor was the case brought before a court magistrate. Days later it was reported that the suspect died whilst in custody, supposedly due to suicide, but the prejudice set in people’s hearts by the news media had already taken its toll. Without thinking, people immediately made comments such as “serves him right” or “he had it coming” as if the deceased suspect is indeed guilty of the rape charges laid against him, without caring for the fact that the case had not been tried in court and no judge had declared the deceased man guilty as charged. So when the police proclaimed the case solved and dealt with, no one had thought to object and demanded the victim still need to go through the identification process to make sure that the deceased was indeed her assailant.
This perversion of justice is again due to people’s tendency to give judgement despite a lack of information, where people are quick to be judge, jury and executioner when an incident goes against their sense of morals and ethics, which they then feel give them all the right to be the arbiters of justice. Just like the “dog meat” case prior, people feel the need to take matters into their own hands because they feel that they can no longer wholly trust in the police and the judicial system to deal with the matter justly, instead many people decided that they themselves – armed with their morals and ethics – are sufficient to convict others of crimes against society. However, by such an act, with complete disregard for due process and adhering to the maxim of innocent until proven guilty, these people commit the very perversion of justice they claim to defend against. Their attitude is as a well-known line from the TVB television drama, Heart of Greed, says: “This isn’t a court of law; there’s no need for proof, my eyes alone are enough.”