Well, well, the standard of political oratory has taken an interesting turn.

Here is a paragraph from HKFP’s report last week: “At an anti-independence rally on Sunday, rural leader Tsang Shu-wo said that pro-independence activists should be ‘killed’ with Ho shouting ‘without mercy’ in response. Ho later said that it was “not a big deal to kill pigs or dogs.”

The Ho is the notorious Junius, an enthusiastic supporter of our current masters and no stranger to controversy.

Junius Ho at a rally on Sunday calling for Benny Tai to be sacked from HKU.

On the day after the rally, the fragrant Junius followed up with an interview on Commercial Radio in which he defended the idea of exterminating independence activists as appropriate and necessary.

On Tuesday, however, Mr Ho was deploying a smoke screen. The word for “kill” in Cantonese did not necessarily mean “kill”. “Kill without mercy is not meant to incite people to kill someone but stands for ‘those who kill others deserve no mercy’,” Ho wrote.

The post ended with “Come on and sue me for intimidation, you idiot”. Mr Ho is not a soothing person.

The matter has apparently been reported to the police, who referred it to an interesting and previously unpublicised body called the Regional Public Order Event Investigation Team. The Chief Executive ducked questions on the matter, saying it was for the police and the Department of Justice. This brings us to Rimsky Yuen, who said the legal status of the words complained of might depend on whether the orator “meant it”.

Rimsky Yuen. File photo: In-Media.

This is a bit disappointing. Mr Yuen, after all, is a political appointee. This means that he is expected to consider such questions as whether a decision to prosecute, or not to prosecute, will be seen as an unwarranted expression of political preferences. In the light of recent cases his reluctance to call “kill them all” at least ostensibly illegal seems a mite prejudiced.

Surely, you would think, if inciting people to commit a public nuisance is a criminal offence (with which sundry Occupy persons have been charged) then inciting people to commit murder must also be one. Or as Albert Cheng put it, if “Now let’s go and reoccupy Civic Square” (the words complained of in Joshua Wong’s case) contain an implication of violence then “kill them all, without mercy” can hardly avoid the same problem.

I note that none of those present at the time had any difficulty in distinguishing what Messrs Tsang and Ho meant. The idea that he was actually expressing the view that killers should get no mercy seems to have been an afterthought.

A pro-Beijing rally calling for Benny Tai to be sacked on Sunday.

Anyway, with all due respect to Mr Yuen, what the speaker meant is not the legal issue. On this point Mr Yuen may find some assistance in the judgement of the House of Lords in Cassidy v Daily Mirror Newspapers Ltd, which included the helpful observation that “The rule is well settled that the true intention of any writer of a document … is that which is apparent in the ordinary and natural meaning of the written words.” I suppose speeches should be considered in the same way.

Of course Mr Ho may have other defences. He might say he was merely quoting the Bible, which has a rather similar observation in Deuteronomy 7:2, and a virtual word-for-word repetition in Ezekiel 9:5. In both cases the instruction to kill them all and show no mercy is attributed to God, who seems to have been rather bloodthirsty in those days.

Or he might claim he was quoting the Evil Queen in a recent television version of Snow White, who uses exactly the same words, leading to the extermination of a whole village.

Or he could try temporary insanity. My only quarrel with that is that it hardly does justice to Mr Ho, who seems to be a bit nuts all the time.

Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.