Hong Kong protests: 31 arrested civil servants suspended from posts

, by CHEUNG Gary

Three-quarters of the 41 public sector workers accused of joining unlawful assemblies taken off duties.
Civil service chief warns those convicted face the sack, saying suspensions necessary to protect public confidence.

Hong Kong’s embattled government has suspended 31 civil servants after they were arrested for taking part in illegal protests over the past seven months of social unrest.

Secretary for the Civil Service Joshua Law Chi-kong revealed on Friday that dozens of government employees had been held by police for joining unlawful assemblies as of December 31, and warned they could lose their jobs if convicted by the courts.
“Out of the 41 arrested, 31 have been interdicted and suspended from service,“ he said. "In the event that they are convicted by the court, we will initiate disciplinary actions. The result could be sacking or warnings, depending on the severity of the punishment.”
Law said the decision to suspend the arrested civil servants was made in the public interest.
“We need to consider public perception if an arrested civil servant is allowed to continue to exercise the powers and functions of office,” he said.

The minister did not reveal whether anyone from the disciplined forces or public education sector were among those arrested, but he stressed the number of civil servants detained for taking part in unlawful public activities only accounted for a tiny minority of the 180,000-strong government workforce.
“The majority of civil servants are conscientious in discharging their duties. Members of the public shouldn’t dismiss the loyalty of civil servants because of the arrests of a small number of government employees,” Law said.

In a letter to all the city’s civil servants in November, Law cautioned that staff could face immediate suspension or other disciplinary action if they were arrested for breaking the law during protests.
“Civil servants must not take part in any unlawful activities and actions, including illegal processions or assemblies,” he wrote.

Sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill [2] in June, the protests have since developed into a wider anti-government movement [3] opposing Beijing and demanding greater democracy.
On November 2, Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily ran a strongly worded commentary warning that Hong Kong civil servants supporting the protests would “burn with the rioters”.

Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants’ Association president Li Kwai-yin said it was a normal arrangement to suspend civil servants after they were arrested, particularly those who provided direct services to the public.
“For instance, it would affect public confidence if a social worker was arrested in connection with sexual offences,” she said, adding that the impact would depend on the severity of the offence.

But Leung Chau-ting, chief executive of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, was critical of the government’s decision to suspend staff before the courts could deliver their verdicts.
“It violates the principle of presumption of innocence under the common law system in Hong Kong,” he said.
Accusing police of mishandling the protests, he added: “It would be unfair to civil servants who might be arrested arbitrarily.”

And Michael Ngan Mo-chau, chairman of the Union for New Civil Servants, which has clashed with the government over its support for the protest movement, questioned the grounds for such a crackdown.
“We hope the Civil Service Bureau will provide clear guidelines for handling relevant cases,” said Ngan, who in August organised a rally against the extradition bill.

Meanwhile, Legco’s finance committee voted down on Friday afternoon a motion inviting Commissioner of Police Chris Tang Ping-keung to attend its meeting and directly address questions from legislators over a funding request that would give officers a pay rise.
The motion was tabled by opposition lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung.
The pro-democracy bloc, which has accused police of using excessive force in handling anti-government protests since last June, has been asking the government to remove the force from the application for public sector pay increases.
The committee, which resumed its scrutiny of the application last month, had not yet voted on the funding request when its meeting ended on Friday evening.

Law said he hoped lawmakers would respect the protocol for scrutinising the annual pay rise for civil servants in one go.
“It is important for us to adhere to the established mechanism,” he said.

[1] https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3037943/hong-kong-protests-civil-servants-told-they-will-face
[2] https://www.scmp.com/topics/hong-kong-extradition-bill
[3] https://www.scmp.com/topics/hong-kong-protests
[4] https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3042855/hong-kong-police-unions-fight-back-lawmakers-attempt-deny