I started writing this column with the hope of organizing my thoughts on the trial of Ho Chio Meng and in the process, come to some sort of meaningful conclusion on whether he ought to be considered an entertainer, a martyr, or something else entirely. This proved more difficult than anticipated and so, given the inevitability of the coming verdict, I decided to focus instead on the possibilities for Ho’s legacy.
The former top prosecutor stands accused of almost 2,000 counts of illegal activity that somehow managed to elude the attention of the honest and shrewd Commission Against Corruption (CCAC) for the best part of a decade and a half.
Presented to the Court of Final Appeal, Ho has had each of his appeals denied, including a habeas corpus claim on the basis of unlawful imprisonment, a separate appeal contesting the legality behind putting him into preventive custody, and most recently, a demand to have the entirety of the charges read out to him in full. Ho is pulling every legal trick he knows but to no avail.
A ‘show trial’ can be defined as an act performed by judicial authorities to arrive at a predetermined verdict having garnered sufficient public support for that outcome. It necessarily comes at the expense of actual justice as the case is not considered in an impartial manner. Aside from show trials, selective prosecution is not really justice either.
Fortunately, we have a precedent here in Macau: the former Secretary for Transport and Public Works, Ao Man Long, who was sentenced in 2012 to 29 years’ imprisonment on broadly similar charges.
If that doesn’t ring a bell, you might know him better by the title bestowed by the media to forever preface his name: “disgraced-former-public-works-chief Ao Man Long.”
The same (or similar) title has already emerged for Ho Chio Meng, as reported by Hong Kong’s RTHK, the Taipei Times, the Straits Times and international media like the U.K.’s Mail Online, despite the fact that he is still standing trial and yet to be convicted – though he almost surely will.
If then, the verdict is inevitable, Ho, like Ao before him, knows this better than most. He must be aware that in the minds of those that matter most he is already considered guilty and will soon be convicted. In that case, what is the purpose behind his highly entertaining and vocal defense?
His defense, which substantially differs from the ominous silence of Ao’s, bears more in common with that of Socrates, about 2,400 years ago, who incidentally was also accused of “failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges.”
Is it courage that Ho is demonstrating in the courtroom when he challenges authorities, mocks the prosecution and uses every trick up his sleeve to exploit legal loopholes?
Or is it simply the desperation of a man who knows that there is no hope of justice and that it is preferable to go out in the likes of Socrates – with witty comebacks and sharp rhetoric – as opposed to the quiet whimper of Ao? Maybe, like some might say of Socrates, his arguments are merely for his own amusement.
Just one example of Ho’s fighting style is the “counter-accusation” of corruption that he made last month against current Secretary for Justice and Administration, Sonia Chan, as well as her predecessor.
Several weeks since the counter-accusation, the CCAC is refusing to comment to the Times whether the allegations will be investigated, stating only that the issue would be handled “in accordance with the law.” Perhaps they don’t want to give legitimacy to the claims through agreeing to investigate, or maybe they just can’t be bothered to draft another derisible report.
It remains to be seen whether Ho will find his name permanently preceded by “disgraced-former…” like Ao, or whether the city will remember him in a nobler sense. I have a feeling it might be the former.