Crime and Punishment

The front page of today’s South China Morning Post is brought to you by justice – every article telling a story of right, in its own way, prevailing over wrong.

At the top we have disgraced former Politburo member Bo Xilai telling his family in a letter that his name will be cleared one day. He will be sentenced on Sunday, and the SCMP quotes a mystery source as saying he’ll get less than 15 years.

Next to it, a Hong Kong couple are jailed for three and five years for cruel and vicious treatment of their Indonesian maid.

Below that, a man is arrested for a knife attack on Chinese tycoon Zong Qinghou, boss of beverage maker Hangzhou Wahaha. This being the Mainland, it is hard to say whether it is the capture of an armed aggressor or the stabbing of one of the country’s richest men that represents justice; possibly, we will never know.

Finally, the US Federal Reserve refrains from ‘tapering’ its monthly purchases of government bonds, thus giving stock investors their fair due for so bravely buying and holding during the tempestuous economic uncertainties of recent years.

The respective fates of Bo Xilai – assuming he gets 15 years – and the Hong Kong maid-abusers offer an interesting case study in comparative retribution. Essentially, embezzlement of millions of yuan and involvement in murder on the Mainland gets you three times the punishment as the assaulting of a domestic servant with hot irons, a paper cutter, a hanger and a shoe in Hong Kong. Are these sentences in proportion to their crimes, and to one another? (We’re using Bo’s official charges here, not all the torturing, killings and asset confiscation in Chongqing that the Communist Party has apparently swept under the carpet.)

Criminal sentencing in Hong Kong seems highly inconsistent among different offences. Pompous, fat-faced drivers of Mercedes can swipe the sidewalk and mutilate pedestrians and get off with just a fine, while pitiful losers making multiple bank deposits on behalf of Mainland third parties get 10 years in prison for money-laundering. A migrant workers’ activist on RTHK Radio 3 this morning doubted that the maid’s employers’ punishment was sufficiently harsh, but the tone of his voice suggested that he was actually surprised that a Hong Kong court had taken the suffering of a fellow brown person so seriously. The station also reported that the judge considered a ‘deterrent’ sentence suitable partly because the crime damaged Hong Kong’s reputation overseas. This makes you wonder whether the system would be more lenient towards someone who scalds and whips a victim less likely to attract the attention of Southeast Asian media – one of our indigenous brown people, perhaps.

Of course, skin colour or nationality shouldn’t come into it, but Hong Kong – where it was once considered daring to let an ethnic Chinese join the Club – has never managed to mentally detach pigmentation from social standing. How many other jurisdictions in the world are, in 2013, wringing their hands over school segregation?

The Standard’s ‘Mary Ma’ editorial can be relied upon to act as the voice of reason at times like this. She notes that abuse does sometimes happen, though it’s usually no worse than a grandmother pinching or slapping a maid, as the elderly with their traditional values are prone to do. The trouble is, when disputes happen, should the employer complain to the domestic helper agency (ie, demand a refund and replacement maid) or should the amah go to the police who, Mary Ma fears, might deal with the case ‘heavily’ (ie, prosecute family members who beat brown people). We need a middle ground, and compromise, she concludes.

Such a reasonable trade-off between the rights and interests of employers who want to hit the maid and maids who prefer not be hit comes, sadly, too late for Catherine Au Yuk-shan – for whom I declare the coming five-year weekend open.

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14 Responses to Crime and Punishment

  1. Typhoon 8 on Monday says:

    in 4 days time we get wet

  2. Frisun says:

    five-year weekend?

  3. PCC says:

    It’s a five-year weekend for her, geddit?

  4. Frisun says:

    Oh I get it – you mean her coming 5.5 year weekend?

  5. JennyE says:

    The Employers of Domestic Helpers association also implied, in the SCMP article, that it was also partly the helper’s fault if they get abused as they don’t understand the cultural norms of HK.

  6. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Out here in the sticks, we’re battening down the hatches, setting the pig-traps and locking up our daughters, in preparation, not for a few drops of rain, but for one of the annual Chinese mountain-burning and devil-frightening rituals.

    Seems eerily quiet on the “BL” without the public face of the intellectual-terrorist twins.

  7. gweiloeye says:

    So if a mugger attacks me in the street, I need to balance whether to call the police or not, in case he gets “heavily” dealt with…. hmmm interesting concept.

    I expect nothing less from Mary Ma.

  8. reductio says:

    @property developer

    Until someone gets killed bugger all will happen to prosecute these firestarters. Last year we had a GFS chopper overhead exhorting all and sundry to avoid careless fires at the same time as the hills beyond were aflame. Wonder how many get prosecuted by the Fire Department each year. Probably the same as get done for illegal structures (BTW what happened to that ?).

  9. gweiloeye says:

    @Reductio and @PD – you look set for a “perfect storm” tonight – low humidity, high temperature and dumb arse fire starters – what a combination.

    Water buckets at the ready!

  10. maugrim says:

    To the perpetrators, racism is only something that effects Chinese people. I can imagine the concern in the local press here if a HK national had been treated that way in say Sydney or Vancouver, with any ill advised comments being seized upon.

  11. PropertyDeveloper says:

    reductio, As you know, the deadline for owning up was last autumn, failing which Carrie Lam, before her promotion, promised that, this time, rooftop structures occupying 50% or more of the footprint would be severely dealt with, no quarter taken. Since then there have been vague mentions of half a dozen targeted villages, mostly in the western NT; and, in the Chinese press, cases where owners have reportedly agreed to dismantle, but their contractors have been prevented from accessing the buildings.

    There are times when I pity frontline government staff. but then I realise how much in cahoots they are with the indigenous thugs, so my feeling never lasts long.

  12. Reductio says: “Until someone gets killed bugger all will happen to prosecute these firestarters.” Several people did get killed some years ago near Tai Mei Tuk, and the only consequence so far as I know was the erection of a pavilion on the spot as a memorial.

  13. Real Scot Player says:

    Say what you want about Our Mary, you can’t fault her entertainment value.

    Its like the KKK got into vaudeville and there was a booking mix up abd Mary’s the MC

  14. Ramer Kang says:

    High on the list of inappropriate sentences should be the punishment (or lack of it) meted out to employers whose faulty equipment or procedures lead to the death or disablement of employees. Paltry fines of around HK$20,000 are the norm for fatalities.

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