Are Mong Kok triads an endangered species? This question arose the other day when four elderly people were arrested for what seems to have been a mini-protest in Mong Kok.

Police announced that the foursome, who apparently displayed a banner calling for “real universal suffrage,” had been arrested on suspicion of “seditious intent.”

Police arrest four people in Mong Kok on suspicion of “seditious intent” after the group displayed a banner demanding genuine universal suffrage. Photo: 民主街旺角鳩嗚團 via Facebook.

Back to your books, boys. There is no such offence as “seditious intent.” There is a section called “seditious intention” in the Crimes Ordinance but it does not by itself create an offence of that name or any other. The offences come in the next section and as well as the intention require an act, speech or publication.

That is one for the legal pedants, perhaps. I note also that it was reportedly considered relevant that the four, whose ages ranged from 61 to 85, had with them a yellow umbrella and were wearing yellow clothes.

It is time we had some common sense with regard to coloured T-shirts and other things. Our police force is not supposed to be run along the lines of the Millwall FC supporters who pounce on any visiting fan wearing the colours of the wrong team.

I have a yellow T-shirt. I also have a blue T-shirt, though I am not a blue ribbon enthusiast. I have a red T-shirt though I am not a communist, I have an orange T-shirt though I am not a protestant. I also have a blackT-shirt and do not wish on that account to be accused of rioting, a sport for which I am much too old.

Black-clad protesters in Hong Photo: Isaac Yee/HKFP.

To return to our four geriatric suspects, we must not, I suppose, trespass in the area of their likely guilt or innocence, which will presumably depend on whether calling for universal suffrage now constitutes a notion so subversive of good order and discipline that anyone uttering it can be charged with trying to bring the government into “hatred and contempt”.

No doubt the usual expert on political slogans will be wheeled into court to advise the judges on this point. Or perhaps he won’t. The gentleman concerned is now in line for a seat at the Legislative Council. As this worthy position is virtually in the gift of the government people may think it casts rather a shadow over the expert evidence he might give, and indeed that his political ambitions might usefully have been mentioned before his last performance.

But we must leave such matters to the courts. What seemed to me to be both legally commentable and worthy of interest was the little snippet at the end of this story, which told us that the matter had been passed to the “Mong Kok district’s anti-triad unit for investigation”.

Has it indeed? We can, I think, exclude the possibility that the anti-triad unit has some unique skills which make them a good fit for this case. I do not recall, among numerous examples of triad activity in Mong Kok, that the display of subversive banners, clothing or umbrellas came up.

Mong Kok at night. Photo: johnlsl, via Flickr.

Given that such examples are numerous, though, and probably only the tip of an iceberg, you would have thought that the anti-triad squad was extremely busy, and so it would be the last unit to be considered if there is a shortage of manpower for political censorship.

There seem to be two possible explanations for this curious decision. One is that the level of triad activity in Mong Kok has now declined to such a low that the anti-triad people have nothing to do. All the syndicates have been smashed, all the vice establishments closed, all the protection rackets terminated. Congratulations!

The other possible explanation, alas, is that triad activity in Mong Kok is much as it has always been, but the police regard this level as perfectly acceptable, and are consequently happy to divert the attention of the anti-triad squad to other matters.

Mong Kok at night. Photo: johnlsl, via Flickr.

Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between, and the anti-triad squad has not had much luck lately, so it is being given a run out against an easy target, rather as a goal-starved centre forward might be given a run in the reserves to get his scoring mojo back. 

I am sure the Mong Kok triads, if there are any left, will be shaking in their boots.

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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.