Police on Wednesday stepped up patrolling in Hong Kong’s busy Causeway Bay shopping area, arresting a young woman with a box cutter in her bag, as they reacted to calls on the internet for people to “mourn” the passage of a week since the death of a man who stabbed an officer in the back before killing himself.
Officers stationed at the scene of the July 1 crime outside the Sogo department store searched the 26-year-old woman who turned up holding white flowers, and arrested her after finding a box cutter in her bag.
Police said in an official Facebook post that they were highly concerned about finding such a weapon in a crowded place, as it could be used to attack officers or members of the public.
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“Police are now reviewing and updating the strategies employed in different districts, to specifically stop and search suspicious persons or vehicles, in order to prevent and combat crime,” the post read.
Earlier on Wednesday, Hong Kong’s No 2 official condemned what he called apologists for terrorism as “sinners for 1,000 years”, criticising liberal commentators for defending people who laid flowers at the scene.
Chief Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu also warned academics and commentators that freedom of speech did not absolve them of social and moral responsibilities, while Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung separately promised to investigate the local chapter of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which pro-establishment politicians accused of breaching the national security law.
In a thinly veiled rebuke for legal scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun, former security chief Lee singled out people with law backgrounds and demanded they refrain from downplaying the impact of radical criminality.
“There are people who tried to play down the adverse consequences and possible harm that the extreme acts could inflict,” Lee said on the sidelines of a Legislative Council meeting.
“People, especially those with a legal background, must understand that what they say has an influence on society.”
Such comments could lead someone to misunderstand the consequences of their behaviour and drive them to “engage in extreme acts”, Lee said.
“Those who try to play down terrorism will be ‘sinners for 1,000 years’,” he added, borrowing a term used in the 1990s by Beijing official Lu Ping against the city’s last British colonial governor, Chris Patten.
On July 1, as Hong Kong marked the 24th anniversary of its return to Chinese sovereignty, a lone assailant stabbed a police officer on a busy Causeway Bay street, and then killed himself.
Some people laid flowers at the crime scene outside the Sogo department store to “mourn” the attacker while others posted messages on social media hailing him as a “martyr”.
Senior officials warned such acts could be illegal, describing them as tantamount to promoting terrorism.
Chan, a former University of Hong Kong law dean, condemned the violence in an interview but said it was far-fetched for officials to suggest people were promoting terrorism simply by mourning someone’s death.
He suggested the laying of flowers could be an act of genuine sympathy over a person’s death, or an expression of dissatisfaction with the government.
“In Hong Kong, people can definitely comment on an incident,” Lee replied when asked if Chan and others making similar remarks about the crime could face legal consequences.
“What I am saying is that people, especially public figures, must bear social responsibility. If they break the law, they need to bear legal responsibility, but their moral responsibility is more important.”
“If they tone down the impact of extreme acts, and someone detonated a bomb that causes casualties, everyone knows who, to a certain extent … has helped terrorism grow,” he added.
Lee said people’s grievances about the city’s governance could not justify terrorist acts.
“No unlawful act can be accepted in society. If you find excuses for terrorism … you are encouraging extremists to engage in such acts,” he said.
“We will try to govern the city well. But [in any society], some people will be dissatisfied about their government’s performance, and they must seek solutions through rational and legal means.”
Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, director of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, had also commented previously on the public reaction to the stabbing and its fatal aftermath.
He earlier suggested that some members of the public were merely expressing sorrow for someone’s death by placing flowers at the scene, rather than endorsing the violence.
In a reply to the Post on Wednesday, Yip said he would not comment further on Lee’s remarks.
“I guess it’s better for everyone to calm down and not to escalate the incident to another level,” he said. “For me, I just hope such an extreme attack will not happen again in our society.”
The Post has also contacted Johannes Chan for comment.
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