Review of Ten Major News Events of the Year of the Horse

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本土新聞甲午年十大新聞回顧 Translated by Chapman Chen

The Year of the Horse was a tumultuous year. Local Press reviews with you the ten major news event of it, in order of increasing significance.

10. Bribery of Rafael Hui

On 29 March 2012, Rafael Hui Si-yan (born 1948), former Chief Secretary for Administration, together with property magnates Thomas and Raymond Kwok of Hong Kong’s third richest family, were invited by the Independent Commission Against Corruption to assist in the investigation of a corruption case. On the evening of the same day, Hui was formally arrested.

In May 2014, the High Court formally started hearing the corruption case of Rafael Hui. According to the brief facts of the case, Hui had accepted an enormous sum of money from Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. , which involved interest transfer, and contravened Prevention of Bribery Ordinance. Huis is the highest ranking government official and the first receiver of Gold Bauhinia Star honour ever arrested since the establishment of the Special Administrative Region Government in 1997.

During the trial, it was revealed that Hui had kept a Shanghai mistress and provided her with large sums of money. And the mitigation letter supplied by Hui’s adopted daughter (who had already left Hong Kong) mentioned the charitable aspect of Hui’s character, as a result of which she was pursued by the press.

9. Gutter Oil Scandal of Hong Kong and Taiwan

In 2014, the food product industry of Hong Kong went through a grave storm. In early September, Kaohsiung-based company Chang Guann Co. was found to have purchased gutter oil from underground oil factories and from Hong Kong-based Globalway Corp Ltd., and mixed it with lard, in order to produce Chuan Tung Fragrant Lard oil for sale, thereby saving considerable costs. As the lard in question had been imported into Hong Kong, a large number of Hong Kong restaurants and food products suppliers had allegedly used the problematic cooking oil.

Upon learning the incident, Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety investigated restaurants of Hong Kong and found that Maxim’s Caterers Limited had used Chuan Tung Fragrant Lard oil to make pineapple buns. Moreover, a number of chain food caterers, including Café Decoral, Butao Ramen, Wang Jia Shan and Xia Mian Guan had allegedly sold and used Chang Guann’s lard. Some edible oil companies had also purchased products from Chang Guann.

After a series of investigations, Centre for Food Safety finally announced that nearly 400 Hong Kong companies were involved in the incident, and completely banned Taiwan edible oil from entering Hong Kong and from being sold here, especially lard and lard products produced by Chang Guann, Taiwan, after 1 March 2014. Some of the small catering enterprises in Hong Kong were obliged to use Dutch lard, the price of which was higher and constantly rising. Although the incident dealt a severe blow to the local catering industry, citizens were alerted to the quality and safety of food.

8. CY Leung Lashed out at Undergrad in Policy Address

In the introduction to his third policy address published on 14 January 2015, CY Leung in an eye-catching way criticized University of Hong Kong (HKU) student magazine, Undergrad, for putting forth a problematic proposal. Leung thought that Hong Kong politicians had to persuade the students to stop, that they should be on guard against the idea of “Hong Kong people determining their own fate”.
Because of CY Leung’s criticism, Hong Kong Nationalism, a book published by Undergrad in 2013, was sold out overnight. It was even said that certain bookshops exercised self-censorship and refrained from selling the book, but that was subsequently proved to be untrue. As a result of Leung’s speech, topics like Hong Kong independence, nation-building, return of Hong Kong to the UK, and autonomy of Hong Kong have become focuses of public discussions.

7. Erwiana’s Abuse Case

In early 2014, it was reported in the mass media that an Indonesian maid named Erwiana Sulistyaningsih was sent back to her home country after being abused by her female employer, Law Wan-tung, for more than seven months in Hong Kong. That was the first time Erwiana came to work in Hong Kong, yet she was beaten up again and again by her employer with a clothes hanger and a rod, and subjected to numerous other ill-treatments. As Erwiana’s injuries became grave in time, her employer was worried that her evil-doing would be exposed. She therefore secretly sent her back to Indonesia. The abuse case was finally debunked by Erwiana’s country folk in the Hong Kong Airport when she was on her way home.

After the exposure of the incident, mass media interviewed Erwiana and discovered more hitherto unknown details of her abuse. Erwiana was so abused that she no longer looked human, and pictures of her injuries immediately drew the attention of international media. Apart from East-Asian mass media, like those of Indonesia and Philippines, many newspapers and magazines in the West reported Erwiana’s victimization extensively. During the course of investigation, Law Wan-tung was arrested at the Hong Kong International Airport while attempting to board a plane to Thailand.

The defendant, Law Wan-tung, appeared in Kwun Tong Magistracy for the first time on 22 January, and faced seven charges, including assault, criminal intimidation, etc. Later, charges against her increased to 21, including ten charges of causing grievous bodily harm, assault and criminal intimidation, ten counts of failure to pay wages and failure to grant statutory holidays, and one count of not buying labour insurance coverage for the maid.

The defendant only admitted to the count of not buying insurance coverage for the maid while denying the remaining twenty counts. The case was transferred to District Court for trial.

When the District Court finally began to hear the case, the prosecution revealed details about how the defendant abused Erwiana. During the seven months of her employment, Erwiana was never paid by the employer. She had to work twenty hours a day; the employer only supplied her with two meals and strictly limited the number of times she went to the toilet and her sleeping hours. Every night she could only sleep on the floor.

According to the prosecution, the defendant often physically attacked Erwiana. When Erwiana’s work was not to the defendant’s satisfaction, she would hit her face and her hind brain with hard objects. And the defendant had sucked her mouth with a vacuum cleaner. The defendant also disallowed Erwiana to look for food, and once manually smashed her front tooth.

During the trial, many witnesses were called to the box, including the defendant’s son. He gave evidence that the relationship between her mother and the three Indonesian maids in the case was a normal employer-employee relationship. Although his mother would scold the maids, he had never seen her hitting or intimidating them. Nonetheless, he conceded that he did not know what happened to the maids when he was at school.

After a prolonged trial, the judge believed Erwiana’s evidence and thought that she was a simple girl, who did not know where to complain after being repeatedly abused. Finally, Law Wan-tung was found guilty of 18 out of 20 counts of abuse. The case was adjourned to 27 February 2015 for sentence. Meanwhile, Law Wan-tung was remanded in custody. Erwiana’s abuse case has shocked the international community, drawing the attention of Hongkongers and foreign maid associations in Hong Kong to foreign maids’ rights in Hong Kong and current Hong Kong policies related to foreign maids.

6. CY Leung Allegedly Accepted Money from an Australian Company but Continued to have China’s Support

On 8 October, during the Umbrella Revolution, CY Leung was exposed to have allegedly accepted “a secret fee” of nearly 50 million Hong Kong dollars from UGL, an Australian enterprise, for Leung to support its business development in Hong Kong. Leung’s declaration of interest issue became the reporting focus of many Hong Kong and Western media. Some public opinions speculated that that was the omen of Leung’s downfall, but Leung continued to enjoy China’s official support.

5. ATV in Arrears with Wages and on the Verge of Winding up

In September 2014, Asia Television, the audience rating of which had long been low, was exposed to have been repeatedly in arrears with staff salaries. Some of the staff members sought help from the Labour Department. ATV’s executive director, Ip Ka-po, responded that the failure to pay the staff on time was a result of the company’s changing heavy shareholders. He stressed that the operation of the company was normal. Finally, the wages for September were paid more than 20 days late.

The situation of ATV’s owing its staff wages has been worsening. It has failed to pay staff salaries for October and November. By the end of December, it still had not paid its staff their salaries for November. The Labour Department was then obliged to interfere with the incident and issue a warning letter to ATV. It also sent representatives to ATV to explain regulations on wage defaults and help the staff with registration for claiming unpaid wages.

Moreover, the News Division of ATV made public their stance and announced that as ATV had been in arrears with staff salaries for one month, the employment contract was deemed as being terminated, in accordance with the Employment Ordinance. They thus could not guarantee that on the first day of the new year, news covering and editing could be provided as usual.

In addition, earlier on, the second major shareholder of ATV, Tsai Eng-meng, launched a petition, requesting an independent custodian be appointed to the board of the cash-strapped station. On 8 December, Tsai tasted success. Subsequently, the High Court appointed partners of Deloitte Firm to manage ATV, and ordered major shareholder Wong Ben-koon to sell at least 10.75 % of his shares.

The accounting firm Deloitte therefore appointed Derek Lai, southern region managing partner of Deloitte China, and Deloitte China restructuring services principal Darach Haughey as joint and individual managers of ATV, who would be responsible for recruiting CEO, taking up the post of board director, and dealing with matters like Wong Ben-koon’s selling of his shares and renewal of license.

Although the High Court had appointed independent custodians to the board of ATV, the wages default problem was not yet solved. Consequently, some of the staff of the News Division chose to quit, including ATV news editor, Law Pui-king. And the 6:00 News Report was shortened from 30 minutes to only 15 minutes, just meeting the Communications Authority’s requirement.

In order to raise capital and salvage itself, ATV put forth a specially discounted ad package for 30-second TV slots, where a 30-second TVC can be broadcast 80 times. Many “old customers” have paid in support of ATV.

Besides, TVB spent several millions Hong Kong dollars purchasing approximately 700 ATV Cantonese (vintage) films to “assist during the hardship”. Other stations also rented ATV’s buildings to record programmes, providing ATV with part of the capital it needed to pay its staff their wages for last November. It was not until January this year that ATV paid its staff the wages in question.

Meanwhile, Derek Lai invited tenders for 10.75 percent of ATV’s shares, requiring potential buyers to pay a non-refundable deposit of 500 thousand dollars During the tender offering process, ATV endeavoured to raise staff wages for December.

With the help of Asia Club, ATV held a fund-raising evening party and raised about 690 thousand Hong Kong dollars in an auction event for the production fee of the programme. The ad proceeds of four to five million HK dollars was used to pay outstanding staff wages.

Although ATV earned ad proceeds by the fund-raising evening party, it still did not have enough money to pay the staff wages for December on time. Nonetheless, major shareholder Wong Ben-koon proposed that the Company privately lend money to ATV staff. Upon signing an IOU, they would then be given a cheque of a denomination equal to their December wages. However, if the staff left service, they had to repay the loan immediately such that the staff actually became debtors.

The tender invitation expired in January this year. The names of bidders that sprung to light include: billionaire Wang Jianlin, whose Dalian Wanda Group sprawls across the mainland as one of the largest developers; David Chiu Tat¬cheong, chairman of Far East Consortium International, whose father Deacon Chiu Te¬ken had once owned ATV; Kennedy Wong Ying¬ho, chairman of Hong Kong Resources; and Kelvin Wu King¬ shiu, principal partner of AID Partners Capital. All of them have strong mainland connections. But subsequently Derek Lai clarified that there were only three bidders.

Nonetheless, owing to major creditor Wong Ching’s dissatisfaction with the prices offered, no agreement has been made so far. Ip Ka-po then announced the project of “one person one share to save ATV” as initiated by former staff of ATV, calling upon supporters of ATV to subscribe to 10.75 percent of ATV’s shares by paying ten thousand HK dollars per share, so that ATV might be able to pay staff wages and the license fee. Certain Legco members remarked that if the action involved more than fifty participants, it would be a collective investment plan, which might violate the Securities and Futures Ordinance. Any person found guilty of the offense shall be liable to imprisonment for 7 years.

As a result of the Company’s owing its staff wages, ATV and its executive director, Ip Ka-po, have received 76 summonses for violating the Employment Ordinance. Earlier on, Senior Vice-President Lau Lan-cheong, on behalf of ATV, pleaded guilty to 38 summonses of violating the Employment Ordinance — owing 15 staff members wages from July through November last year, which amounted to around 330 thousand HK dollars. Having considered ATV’s history of more than 50 years and the fact that this was its first offence, the Magistrate fined ATV HK$380,000, to be paid within one month. Ip Ka-po also faced 38 summonses but he denied all charges, and his case was adjourned until February 26.

A few days ago, Ip Ka-po disclosed that ATV still needed 30 million HK dollars for paying the staff salaries for January, a small number of employees’ wages for December, license fee and everyday expenses. He appealed to the shareholders to solve the problem of unpaid wages as soon as possible. It is estimated that ATV will receive 15 million HK dollars for selling its farming land in Tsuen Wan. It is also planning to sell a couple of holiday villas it owns in China.

4. Society for Community Organizations Went to UN and Accused Hongkongers of Discrimination against China People

In December 2013, The Court of Final Appeal ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny social security to new immigrants, who had not resided in Hong Kong for seven years (Kong Yunming vs Director of Social Welfare). Subsequently, on 8 May 2014, three delegates of SoCo, namely Ho Hei-wah, Richard Tsoi, and Sze Lai-shan, attended a hearing held by the United Nations in Geneva on the implementation of The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Hong Kong.

There SoCo alleged that new immigrants from China to Hong Kong were being severely prejudiced against and urged the UN to pressurize the Hong Kong Government to revise Race Discrimination Ordinance and criminalize “racial harassment” and “racial vilification”, in order to protect new immigrants.

The event led to great disputes in Hong Kong. In all the four open consultation meetings of Equal Opportunities Commission, many participants voiced their strong objection to revision of Race Discrimination Ordinance, on the ground that it smacked of promoting Hong Kong Independence to regard Hongkongers and China people as two races, that it is difficult to interpret and carry out the revised ordinance, that reverse discrimination might result as Hongkongers were already a weak group in Hong Kong, and that safeguarding privileges of Mainlanders with criminal law would lead to ever more serious conflicts between the two ethnic groups in Hong Kong.

3. Mainstream Media – from Blocking to Reporting the Localist Camp

In 2014, the frequency of the Localist Camp’s appearance in newspapers began to increase. On June 4, thousands of civilians joined alternative rallies in Tsim Sha Tsui and Sheung Shui against the annual vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre held by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China. In these alternative rallies, the question of whether Hong Kong had the responsibility to “build a Democratic China” was vigorously discussed. At the City Forum held by Radio and Television Hong Kong on 8 June, Wong Yeung-tat (leader of Civic Passion), Chapman Chen (representative of Local Press), Claudia Mo (representative of HK First cum legislator), and Lee Cheuk-yan (HK Alliance in Support of Patriotic Movements in China) debated about the June Fourth Massacre.

In July, Jimmy Lai, President of Next Media openly said in an internet programme of Appledaily that he had ordered the senior management of Next Media “NOT to allow localist writers to speak so much”, on the ground that this would be interpreted as pro-independence of Hong Kong and would lead to Appledaily being boycotted. After National People’s Congress made the Aug. 31 decision, Choy Chi-keung, a famous Hong Kong political critic, wrote a critique and pointed out that democratic return of Hong Kong to China has reached a dead end, which aroused the public to query the pan-democrats’ age-old route of constructing a democratic China.

After the Umbrella Revolution, many pan-democracy political parties such as Democratic Party and Civic Party urged for “localist discourse” to be taken seriously. After CY Leung loudly denounced Undergrad, a publication of the Student Union of HKU, Appledaily actually reprinted articles from Undergrad, which Leung had accused of promoting independence of Hong Kong. On February 13, Appledaily interviewed a few localist organizations and came up with its own version of a “localist political spectrum”.

2. North East New Territories Project Passed amidst Great Controversies

In June 2014, the SAR Government examined the North East New Territories Project, which would develop Kwu Tung North, Fanling North and Ping Che/Ta Kwu Ling into residential and business districts, involving a total area of 787 acres. In 2012, Leung Chun-ying indicated that the NENT new development area and the forbidden border zone could be developed into “a special region within the special administrative region”. This was put forth again in 2014, which was regarded as an important project to merge Hong Kong with China.

Controversial issues about the project also included lack of regional consultation, compensation, conservation, etc. In addition, Paul Chan, Secretary for Development, was exposed to have hoarded for speculation land in the new development areas. There were also the issues of real estates tycoons hoarding up land and possible interest transfers between government officials and business tycoons. The pro-democracy camp filibustered many times in the Legislative Council, causing the motion to be adjourned again and again.

During the examination of the motion in the Legco, Hong Kong citizens time and again assembled outside the Legco and at Timmei Road, Admiralty. Finally, on June 27, close to 10 pm, the motion was brutally passed in the Finance Commission under the chairmanship of Ng Leung-sing, a pro-China legislator.
At that time, many pro-democracy legislators left their seats to argue with Ng and could not return to their seats and vote on time. When the motion was “passed”, civilians outside made an uproar but did not attack at all. A dozen of pan-democrats went out to be applauded by the citizens. Cheuk Kai-kai, a represent of the peasants, then openly said that “today does not mark the end of the battle of NENT.”

1. Umbrella Revolution

The Umbrella Revolution, which lasted for 79 days in the second half of last year, is of great significance to Hongkongers.

Civilians’ Spontaneous Participation

One of the important reasons for the occurrence of Umbrella Revolution is Beijing’s rejection of civic nomination as proposed by the folk in relation to the general election of the Chief Executive in 2017. From 22 September to 26 September, Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) and Scholarism initiated students’ strikes. On 26 September, they initiated an action to recover Civic Square and entered into conflict with the police. The latter attacked the protesters with pepper spray and arrested many of them. HKFS and Scholarism organized an assembly outside the Hong Kong Government Headquarters, which was joined by about 80 thousand people. Some of them stayed behind.

On 27th September, Benny Tai, one of the initiators of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace Movement, indicated that they would not “occupy Central” earlier than scheduled. Nonetheless, on the early morning of the 28th, he announced formal activation of the occupy action. However, protesters had different views. Some students thought that the action was hijacked.

On September 28, a number of citizens gathered around the Headquarters of Government Offices. More than one thousand civilians rushed to the road from different directions and occupied Connaught Road Central and Harcourt Road. They entered into conflict with the police when the latter attacked them with pepper spray. As the protesters fended off the police’s pepper spray with umbrellas, news pictures and video clips taken of the scene were filled with umbrellas, and the action began to be called “Umbrella Revolution” or “Umbrella Movement”.

Later, the police tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas in vain. Subsequently, the police confirmed that 87 shots of tear gas were fired. This is the first time since South Korean farmer’s anti-WTO protest that the Hong Kong police have fired tear gas shots at protesters.

Tear gas not only failed to disperse the protesters in Admiralty but stimulated even more civilians to go and gather in Admiralty, Central and Wan Chai in support of the protesters. They criticized the police for using tear gas against unarmed protesters. Some citizens spontaneously occupied Nathan Road in Mongkok and Hennessy Road and Yee Wo Street outside the Sogo Departmental Store in Causeway Bay.

This Umbrella Revolution is different from the protests and demonstrations in the last 17 years in that there were no substantial leaders. Even though HKFS and initiators of Occupy Central Movement did urge the protesters to leave in the course of the revolution, many of them did not comply, especially those in occupied zones of Mongkok and Causeway Bay.

Most of the material resources of the Umbrella Revolution, including tents, food, drinks, masks, umbrellas, etc., were donated by civilians of their own accord. Many people took the initiative to express their demand for universal suffrage in different ways, such as sticking labels to the wall next to the staircase at the Government Headquarters in Admiralty, which came to be called the Lennon Wall.

Fall of the Police’s Image

During the Umbrella Revolution, quite a few conflicts broke out between the protesters and the police, some of which gravely compromised the police’ image. For instance on October 15, when the police cleared Lung Wo Road, Admiralty, reporters of TVB filmed a protester being carried off by seven police officers to a dark corner, where he was punched, kicked and stamped on for four minutes. The footage shocked the public, as a result of which the seven policemen were suspended from their duties and at a later stage arrested for causing actual bodily harm.

Moreover, on October 3, a huge group of anti-Occupy Action people went to Nathan Road and Argyle Street, Mongkok, pushed and knocked occupiers, destroyed road barriers and tents there, and hit the assemblers. The police was criticized for indulging gangsters to beat up people. Lai Tung-kwok, Secretary for Security, stressed that the police had tried their best on that day to maintain public order and enforce the law fairly and impartially.
Emergence of Yellow Ribbons and Blue Ribbons

During the Revolution, Civil Human Rights Front initiated a Yellow Ribbon Movement, calling upon Hong Kong citizens to wear yellow ribbons in order to express the stance of fighting for genuine universal suffrage and return of power to the people. Yellow therefore became the representative colour for Umbrella Revolution.

On the other hand, a group of anti-occupy and pro-police people adopted the blue ribbon as their symbol. Many people fell out with their friends and family owing to their yellow- or blue ribbon standpoint during the Occupy Movement.

HKFS’s Role

Umbrella Revolution can be said to have been triggered off by HKFS’ and Scholarism’s strike and recovery of Civic Square. Although HKFS was not the sole party in charge of the Occupy Movement, it played a more or less leading role. For example, on October 21, five delegates of HKFS dialogued with five representatives of the Government, including Chief Secretary, Carrie Lam.

HKFS has been blamed for having made a number of wrong judgments in the Umbrella Revolution, including missing opportunities of escalating action to force the regime to give way. This also triggered off general polling of Hong Kong University students on withdrawal from HKFS. On top of that, students of Chinese University of Hong Kong, Polytechnic University and City University of Hong Kong, respectively set up Withdrawal from HKFS Concern Group to discuss whether to withdraw from HKFS or not.

Three Occupied Zones Cleared One after Another

As the occupation drew on, and with no substantial response on the part of the Hong Kong Government to the citizens’ demand for universal suffrage, the Umbrella Revolution entered a stalemate. In addition, The High Court extended injunctions on 10 November that had been granted to taxi, mini-bus and bus operators authorising the clearance of protest sites. Bailiffs and police cleared the tents and barriers in the most volatile of the three Occupy sites, Mong Kok, on 25 and early 26 November. The police forcefully chased away the protesters, sprayed them with tear liquid, and arrested 160 civilians, 30 of which were subsequently prosecuted. After the clearance, and since November 28, protesters often sporadically demonstrated at night along Sai Yeung Choy Street near Soy Street in the name of shopping, which became a kind of “fluid occupation” in the city.

In contrast with the clearing of Mongkok occupied zone, the police’s December 10 clearing action in Admiralty did not meet with much resistance. Those who stayed there until the last minute were brought one by one by the police to the police station for investigation. Similarly, on December 15, the police cleared up the occupied zone of Causeway Bay in the absence of any resistance. And this marked the end of the 79-day-long Umbrella Revolution.


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