May The Force Be With You – Part Twelve

The Perils of Stardom 

The 4th of June 1989 was a dark day for democracy in the People’s Republic of China, as it was indeed for the people of Hong Kong. 

At the time I was posted to a counter-espionage section whose target was Soviet-bloc nationals visiting or passing through the territory. The business was quiet, and the days were spent listening intently to the news updates on the situation in Beijing and the reactions of the freedom-loving west. The people of Hong Kong of all nationalities shared a brief moment of camaraderie in the knowledge that 1997 was not that far away and what had happened in Tienanmen could well happen here. 

The reactions of the local people were strong, and many people who are now well-known activists had their beginnings during those awful days. They were awful because everyone was scared and with the compassion, or lack of it known only to our colonial masters, very little was done to allay fears. 

One particular activist was frightening the government in that he was actually making sense (more sense) than the hierarchy was, and a decision was made at the upper levels to put him in his place. 

Let me hasten to add at this point that it was never intended to harm this fellow, but merely to shut him up for a few months until everything quieted down. A short term of incarceration was what was needed, but it was first necessary to have him arrested on a charge of something akin to disturbing the peace. It was then that Simon, whom we first came across in an earlier chapter, was called in by his Commanding Officer. 

In those days in the Branch, there were many sections whose activities were so secret that very few people below the directorate level knew what their job was. (And in some cases this included the officers themselves). Simon worked in one such section, and he was tasked with the job of attending one of the activist’s rallies and by fair means or foul, turning it into a riot. 

Simon and his team set out, and to start with everything went according to plan. Simon himself, being an Englishman, did not take part, but directed the operation from a side street. His plainclothes Chinese officers and men mingled with the crowd and started stirring things up. 

Everything was going well, the crowd was becoming unruly, insults and objects started being thrown about the place, and then a film crew from a local television station turned up. Fearing that undue attention might be paid to their activities, the officers moved too quickly and a report was made of illegal assembly. PTU arrived and the activist and his supporters were arrested. At that point, it appeared to be a job well done, and Simon and his team dispersed.

Then it was learned that a TV station had been filming the incident and fearing that certain officers might be identified, and the government embarrassed, the government obtained an order under a security act to seize the offending film. It might have been better for the powers concerned if they had left the matter alone, as the seizure of the film created more of a ruckus than the riot itself, and the report of police officers entering the TV station made for great news. 

However, the authorities had the activist in custody and the hearing was set; it looked as if things were going to turn out all right after all. 

On the day of the hearing, Simon and his team turned up at court not realising that the presiding judge had not only watched the film seized from the TV station but was a regular at several police messes throughout the territory. He cast a jaundiced eye over the assembled officers who were supposedly there as interested observers as the prosecutor made his opening remarks. 

Before the defence counsel was able to say anything the judge made his comments which went something like this: 

“Do you really wish to continue?” He asked the prosecutor, quite innocently. “It is just that, having seen the tape I seem to recognise several Special Branch officers present here this morning, and each and every one of them featured prominently in the tape!” 

The government was not able to provide a strong enough case and decided not to proceed. The activist was released with a warning to stay out of trouble, and Simon returned to Special Branch with his rank of Chief Inspector intact; the same rank he left the force with six years later. 

If Simon himself had been permitted to review the tape he might have realised how fortunate he was to have been able to keep not only his rank but also his job, as one excerpt showed him sitting on a railing in his side street vantage point, conducting the activities of his men with a Big Mac in one hand and a can of Carlsberg in the other. 

Copyright John Stewart Sloan – 2007 – Not For Publication

Published by stewartgoeswalkies

Happily married man to a wonderful lady. Living in Hong Kong. In my younger days I enjoyed hiking, camping and rock climbing. I've trekked in the Himalayas and climbed Mt. Kinabalu in East Malaysia.

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