The Headline News In Hong Kong - Part 4
The detailed information for this item appeared previously in this post. On August 13th, a Hong Kong Democratic Party candidate Alex Ho in the Legislative Council elections was arrested in Dongguan, China for patronizing a prostitute. On the night before the news was to break, the Democratic Party held a press conference to denounce the Chinese government for political persecution via a frame-up of Alex Ho. In response, the Chinese Public Security Bureau held its own press conference in which certain details (such as the circumstances of the arrest and the contents of the signed confession by Alex Ho and the prostitute) were disclosed to the press. Since then, the Democratic Party has carefully avoided repeating the persecution charges in its official statements. However, the Democratic Party cannot restrain what all its members might say, especially in the midst of the Legco election campaign, nor can they control what the media are saying.
Here is a sample of what has appeared in the western media:
(Washington Post editorial, August 24, 2004) Without access to a lawyer or even a trial, Alex Ho Wai-to was sentenced to six months in a labor camp for allegedly soliciting a prostitute while on a business trip to the mainland, a conviction that is likely to disqualify him from the election. The unusually harsh sentence -- normally a fine or a couple of weeks of detention -- fueled speculation that China was engaged in another egregious attempt to smear pro-democracy parties before the Sept. 12 vote.
(The Standard, August 25, 2004) A well-planned smear campaign is bearing fruit in the form of back-to-back scandals that may hurt the Democratic Party in next month's Legislative Council election, party leaders say. "There is a well-organised conspiracy under way,'' Democratic legislator Law Chi-kwong said, "and it is being done systematically.'' Referring to the raid that nabbed Alex Ho on prostitution charges in the mainland and the uncovering of the James To property scandal this week, Law said that a "smear campaign'' launched by unknown persons was intent on digging up dirt on the Democrats. ... The grim month for the Democrats began on Friday, August 13, when Kowloon East constituency candidate Alex Ho was detained for six months without trial for allegedly soliciting a prostitute in Dongguan. It is still unclear how the police who broke into his hotel room knew he was there and what he was doing.
(AFP, August 27, 2004) Comparing the alleged smear campaign with the negative electioneering of Western democracies, [Legco candidate Fred] Li said Democrats here faced one big difference. "We have the Chinese Communist Party against us. That is a far bigger challenge." Li's remarks followed similar claims by Democrat Law Chi-kwong who said the jailing of a fellow party member in China for allegedly hiring a prostitute, and recent claims that another one misused public funds, were part of a conspiracy. Junior member Alex Ho is languishing in a detention centre in neighbouring Guangdong province after being arrested for allegedly hiring a prostitute while on a business trip to Dongguan city.
(New York Times, September 6, 2004) Another moderate candidate, Alex Ho, was allowed in on a business trip nearly a month ago, but then was arrested in a mainland city near here on Aug. 13 and convicted of soliciting a prostitute. Mr. Ho was sentenced to six months of "re-education through labor" without benefit of a trial or access to a lawyer. A Hong Kong police officer arrested several days later for soliciting a prostitute was sentenced to 15 days of labor, and was then released early. The Democratic Party initially contended that Mr. Ho's confession to the police had been coerced and suggested that he might have been framed, although the party has since stopped talking about the incident while trying to arrange his release. A transcript of the confession, leaked to the media here, portrayed Mr. Ho as telling investigators that a "male stranger" woke him in his hotel room at 3:30 a.m. and offered to send up a woman whom Mr. Ho knew and with whom he had spoken earlier in the evening. The circumstances of Mr. Ho's arrest prompted speculation at first that the incident might help democrats, by reminding Hong Kong residents of the lack of due process on the mainland.
Now put yourself in the place of the Chinese Public Security Bureau in Dongguan. Assume that you believe that you acted in good faith to uphold the law (or, at least, you want people to believe that you have done so). What do you do in the face of this one-sided barrage of negative coverage? You have the western media who have their own agenda (see this very relevant post) and you have the Democratic Party who is trying to get some voter sympathy.
Well, the Chinese Public Security Bureau can keep a stiff upper lip, take the abuse and permit the (irresponsible) exercise of freedom of press and speech. However, they have opted to strike back a second time. On Wednesday (just four days before the Legco elections), the Dongguan Public Security Bureau held its second press conference.
Prior to the press conference, there was some speculation that the purpose was to announce an early release for Alex Ho.
(The Standard) Hope Rises For Ho Release. By Teddy Eng and Dennis Chong. September 8, 2004.
Dongguan police are to hold an unprecedented press conference today amid reports that Democrat Party Legislative Council candidate Alex Ho may be released within days, just a few weeks after being given a six-month detention order for allegedly soliciting the services of a prostitute. Ho has been held without trial since August 13. Sources close to mainland authorities were quoted on Tuesday night as saying Ho could be released as early as this week.
But that was a lot of wishful thinking, because it was not the reason given by the Dongguan authorities for the press conference:
However, Dongguan authorities dampened those hopes. "The press conference will update the press on the latest situation on Ho's custody," the Dongguan government spokesman said. Police officials also said the press conference would justify Ho's six-month detention for "custody and education".
I was sitting at home and a family member made the comment that Alex Ho was going to be released. I laughed and said, "No! On the contrary, I am sure that they are going to trot out the nude photos that they have of him." So can you guess what happened?
September 9, 2004.
The Dongguan Public Security Bureau claimed that Kowloon East
Legislative Council Democratic Party candidate Alex Ho had admitted that
he patronized prostitutes frequently in Shenzhen. In a press
conference held in the afternoon, the Dongguan Public Security Bureau
gave more details about the case of Alex Ho. The spokesperson
claimed that Alex Ho admitted that since 2001, he had sexual
relationships with various females that he encountered in karaoke
parlors in Shenzhen, paying them various amounts of money.
At the press conference, the Public Security Bureau also exhibited a series of photographs, showing the circumstances under which Ho was arrested as well as his life at the detention center. The Public Security Bureau said that Alex Ho was receiving humane treatment at the detention center. Although Alex Ho has hepatitis B, it is not contagious and unlike people with sexually transmitted diseases who are excluded from the detention center.
When asked if Ho will be released early, the Public Security Bureau spokesperson said that they will act according to the law. The Public Security Bureau spokesperson said that these details were provided because a certain organization in Hong Kong has slandered and smeared the law enforcement efforts of the Public Security Bureau by distorting the facts repeatedly.
September 9, 2004
information did not come during the Public Security Bureau press
conference, but was obtained separately by The Sun.
[translation] Upon further questioning by the Public Security Bureau, Alex Ho admitted on his own that since 2001 to now, he had multiple sexual encounters with four different escorts (including Zhou Wenlan of this case) who worked at Shenzhen karaoke parlors, paying them varying amounts of money each time. The other three women are Peng Yujin, Peng Minli and Zhou Yan, all of whom came from Hunan province. The Public Security Bureau has contacted the three and confirmed Ho's statement.
According to the information, Alex Ho particularly likes tall and well-built women, espcially those from Hunan. In 2000, he got to know Peng Minli's cousin Zhou Yan. In order to make it more convenient to hold trysts, Ho rented an apartment unit in the Lungkang District to keep Zhou as his mistress, and he would show up about every 10 days to meet with Zhou. Each time, he gave her one to several thousand dollars, and sometimes he would just ask friends to deliver money to her.
In 2002, Zhou Yan asked to break up. Since Alex Ho could not be by her side regularly, she had gotten to know a married businessman named Lin from Taiwan through the Internet and she was in fact pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. But Alex Ho did not give up, and visited Zhou while Lin is back in Taiwan. Ho offered Zhou five to six thousand dollars a month to renew their relationship, and Zhou now had two men in her life.
Zhou Yan confessed to Lin about her relationship to Ho, and the two began to quarrel regularly. After one quarrel, Zhou went to her cousin's place. When Ho heard about it, he went over there immediately. Ho and Zhou had a wild session in a Lungkang hotel, and he paid her 2,000 dollars afterwards. Lin was heartbroken. He wrote a farewell note and ingested large quantities of sleeping pills, but he was saved in time. Zhou was more restrained after that, although she kept seeing Ho on the side.
At the same time, Alex Ho met the escort Pen Yujin in a Shenzhen karaoke parlor earlier this year. Alex Ho said that his nickname was Ho Tai Sin (meaning, a minor god) and he knows palmistry and fengshui (geomancy), and he did some simple fortune telling for her. In March this year, Alex Ho asked her to spend the night at the hotel and gave her 1,000 dollars afterwards. A month or so later, Alex Ho asked her to spend time at the same hotel, and she even gave him a discount on that occasion.經過公安進一步查問後，何偉途更主動承認自○一年至今，在深圳市的卡拉OK歌舞廳，與包括周文蘭在內等四名四陪女郎發生多次性行為，每次支付數額不等的金錢，而其餘三名女子分別是彭玉金、彭敏麗及周艷，均來自湖南，公安向三人查證後，證實真有其事。
(The Standard) Photos quash hopes for Ho's early release. By Dennis Chong. September 9, 2004.
Detained Democratic Party election candidate Alex Ho was described by mainland police as a "man with wicked habits'' as they said he would not be home in time for polling day on Sunday. The announcement by officials in Dongguan quashed hopes that Ho, 46, might be released early from the six months of "custody and education'' he is serving after being caught allegedly with a prostitute in a hotel room.
But instead of early release and leniency, authorities used a rare press conference just days before the Legislative Council election to outline a host of sins they said Ho had committed. The timing of the comments, which included the release of pictures showing a half-naked Ho in his hotel room during his arrest and the condom wrapper that was allegedly found in the rubbish bin, seemed designed to further tarnish Ho's image with voters.
The graphic photos and allegations may backfire and draw sympathy from voters, said commentator Ivan Choy of Chinese University. "I think no Hong Kong people can tolerate an act of displaying a detainee's naked photos,'' he said. "This will deeply hurt the core values of Hong Kong people. Instead of damaging support for the democratic camp, the move may strengthen the public belief that it is a political persecution.''
The open discussion of a case that to all intents and purposes was settled the day Ho was rousted out of his room, booked and sentenced without benefit of a trial in mid-August was an unprecedented act for the generally media-shy mainland police.
"The aim of the press conference is to respond to some individuals in Hong Kong who have repeatedly distorted the truth and created their own evidence,'' Dongguan police spokesman Li Zelin said. Ho, a Kwun Tong district councillor, remains on his party's Kowloon East list behind Fred Li and Wu Chi-fai despite the sex scandal and detention.
According to Li Zelin, Ho was arrested during a 100-day anti-vice crackdown by Guangdong authorities and implemented by the Dongguan police. Ho was found naked in Room 1410 of the Springwood Harbour Hotel in Humen, with a 25-year-old woman from Anhui named Zhou. Four brothels were raided during the operation, Li said.
Li said Ho had forced Zhou to have sexual intercourse during her menstrual cycle and flushed the used condom down the toilet. Li quoted Ho as telling interrogators that he would have paid Zhou a few hundred yuan had he not been arrested. "He also admitted to having had sex with Zhou on July 30, for which he paid her 1,000 yuan,'' he added.
Li alleged that Ho had also admitted to having sexual relations with three other women, all from Hunan province, between 2001 and the time he was arrested. Not only did Li disclose their names, he also said they had been contacted by police and confessed to having had sex with Ho.
"He is a man with wicked habits and we have punished him in accordance with the law,'' Li said. Ho was not treated differently because of his political affiliations, Li said, as the same punishment was meted out to other individuals who committed similar offences.
(SCMP) Poll chief plays down smear claims. By Klaudia Lee and Sophie Taylor. September 10, 2004.
The election chief yesterday played down Democrats' suggestions that the controversy surrounding the detention of party candidate Alex Ho Wai-to in Dongguan was part of a smear campaign.
But Mr Justice Woo Kwok-hing, chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission, stopped short of defending the arrest of Mr Ho, saying he did not know the motives behind the case.
Asked if a smear campaign had been orchestrated over Mr Ho's detention, Mr Justice Woo said: "I don't know." He said it would be "quite incorrect" to describe anything as a smear campaign unless it was based on publication of false information.
Regardless of the truth of this case, the Democrats have made repeated strategic and tactical mistakes. All the Chinese authorities did was to give the Democrats enough rope to hang themselves and then they step in for the rout.
At first, the Chinese authorities said nothing publicly about the arrest. It was the Democrats who jumped ahead into the attack about political persecution within hours of learning the news in order to pre-empt a newspaper exclusive story (see previous post). This permitted the Dongguan authorities to hold their first press conference to feed the media frenzy with the 'facts' that the Democrats never knew about. It was a total rout. The Democrats had no response to the lurid details.
Not having learned from that mistake, the Democrats continued to press their luck with references to a black smear campaign by the Chinese authorities. This permitted the Dongguan authorities to hold this second press conference just four days before the elections. Now, a vote for the Fred Li ticket this Sunday is a vote for this naked man. Fred Li has purged Alex Ho's name and image from his campaign materials, but Ho is still listed on the official ballot (see post). This was another total rout, as the photo of the naked man (and the condom wrapper, the menstrual blood stains, the scattered underwear and the rumpled bed sheets) on the newspaper front page is infinitely more powerful than a bunch of whiny words. Once again, the Democrats had no effective response.
Front page of Apple Daily
This is not the end, because there may be a third round. Someday, Alex Ho will be released and he will return to Hong Kong. Will Alex Ho and the Democratic Party attempt to give their side of the 'real' story? If so, the trap is set. The Dongguan authorities will be able to hold its third press conference, during which they will trot out who knows what else they have been holding back: the female in this case (周 文 蘭) in person; the other three female prostitutes from Hunan that Ho knew and kept contact with, including one who is a long-term paid mistress; the video surveillance tapes at the hotels; the names of Ho's colleagues who had knowledge of his follies; the semen DNA analysis; and so on. That will be yet another total rout. Will the Democrats march into the trap again?
On Friday, September 10th, Fred Li's campaign scheduled a rally in which the wives of all three candidates were supposed to be present. This was enough to create a media frenzy. Will Fred Li repeat the charge of political persecution by China and will Mrs. Ho support him on that score? Will we then get to see more nude photos? At the last minute, Mrs. Ho cancelled on grounds of not feeling well. When the rally was held, little was said about Alex Ho.
A sub-title in the Apple Daily front page is that a scholar said that the disclosure failed to live up to international standards. This is not a totally fair comparison since the conditions are different.
It is not true that western countries ban government discussion of case evidence. For example, US Attorney General John Ashcroft has given a number of press conferences to tout the arrests of terrorist suspects; and Rudi Giuliani, when he was the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, relished presenting the arrests of organized crime figures. And everybody loves to show the press the rooms full of seized drugs and guns, and they love telling the press when and where to take photographs of defendants being marched into court (known as the 'perp walk').
In the United States, a public morals case such as Alex Ho's is a minor local case and would not have been addressed by an American prosector in a press conference at all. However, the evidence will be a matter of public record. Sometimes, the prosecutor and the defendant may want the judge to seal some of the evidence, as in the Kobe Bryant 'rape' case that was just dismissed. In a case like Alex Ho's, Associated Press would have filed a successful Freedom Of Information Act request to ask for the information since it is clearly a matter of public interest (namely, it will affect the vote). So the information would have been out there in its entirety, which is possibly much more than seen so far, weeks ago. This is a different kind of 'international' standard, but it does not protect individual privacy.
In the case of Alex Ho, the moves by the Democrats will be subject to second-guessing. What if the Democrats did not hold their press conference to charge political persecution? Would the Dongguan Public Security Bureau still come out with the details? We'll never know.
Given that the Democrats held that press conference, what options are open to the Dongguan Public Security Bureau? Should they keep silent to protect the privacy of Alex Ho and let the Democrats' version of political persecution stand? Or should they rebut the case vigorously with the evidence?
Given the continued conmingling of the Alex Ho case with the other Democrat Party scandals as a concerted black smear campaign by the Chinese authorities, what options are open to Donguan Public Security Bureau? Should they keep silent to protect the privacy of Alex Ho and let the Democrats' version stand? Or should they rebut the Democrats' black smear campaign with the evidence at hand?
The following English-language editorial appeared in Ming Pao:
Yesterday at a press conference the Dongguan Public Security Bureau released further information on the case of Democratic Party Legislative Council (Legco) election candidate Alex Ho, who is alleged to have procured a prostitute's services. It released a picture taken in a hotel room showing a half—naked Ho and another showing him, apparently in good health, doing exercise in a detention centre. Whatever its intention, the public security bureau's decision to do so on the eve of the Legco election would have an impact on it. Such a move is at odds with the "one country, two systems" principle. It is improper.
The day before yesterday the Dongguan Public Security Bureau suddenly announced it would call a press conference on the Ho case. A spokesman for the bureau said it had decided to do so because some Hong Kong organisations and their leaders had kept smearing its law—enforcement operations. Asked why it had chosen to hold a press conference on the eve of the Legco election, the spokesman left without giving a reply. We take the view that it need not have held the press conference at the sensitive juncture. We have three reasons.
(1) Shortly after Ho's detention had become known, the Democratic Party and its leaders did suggest that Ho might have suffered political persecution and might have been coerced into confession. However, the party promptly adjusted its stance, switching to a low—key approach. It has sought to obtain Ho's release on humanitarian grounds. It has tried to do so over the past two weeks. What the Dongguan Public Security Bureau said yesterday about certain organisations' persistent mud—slinging hardly tallies with fact.
(2) Ho's case is a controversial issue related to the Legco election. For days pro—Beijing groups have grilled the Democratic Party about it at televised forums. That has been widely reported in the press. As the Dongguan Public Security Bureau follows public opinion in Hong Kong, it could not have been unaware that the Ho case may have an impact on the Legco election. Its decision to bring up the case again on the eve of the SAR election cannot but have people believe it intentionally seeks to influence the outcome of it.
(3) Hong Kong reporters have been making inquiries about the case since a long time ago. Had it been eager to answer press questions, the Dongguan Public Security Bureau would have held a press conference more than two weeks ago. Not eager to answer press questions, it should have decided to leave the case aside until the polling—day. It has not reversed its decision on Ho's case, nor has it released him. It need not have held the press conference, at which its officers gave a graphic description of the facts of the case with a view to deepening the public's impression of it. Furthermore, the spokesman failed to explain reasonably why it had decided to call the press conference at the sensitive juncture. Therefore, it is hard for the public security bureau to clear itself of the suspicion that it has attempted to influence the outcome of the Legco election.
The press conference took place when the polling—day was drawing near. Furthermore, what was disclosed at it has aroused suspicions, as has the way in which it was handled. The Dongguan Public Security Bureau released photos of Ho probably to show that he had repeatedly used prostitutes' services and that he had not been wrongly accused or given an excessively severe punishment. However, Ho had been denied of a fair trial in open court. He is now held in detention. He is denied of legal representation. He has no chance at all to defend himself. What the Dongguan Public Security Bureau did with respect to Ho's case has laid it wide open to accusations of unfair treatment of detainees.
The same accusations and pieces of information would, were they presented in court, give the public a totally different impression.
The Democratic Party has exercised restraint. It has stressed it hopes Ho will soon be released without commenting on what may have motivated the Dongguan Public Security Bureau to call the press conference. It is understandable that it has adopted such a pragmatic approach. Even if Ho did procure prostitutes' services, that is only a matter of private morality. The test which Democratic Party leaders are faced with is whether they will deal with Alex Ho impartially.
Other parties would do well to draw a lesson from the Ho affair. They should enforce party discipline and make stricter demands on their members in the way of integrity. Politicians are inevitably monitored. Political parties must urge their members to be discreet in word and deed and impartially and strictly deal with those found to have done wrong. Only if they do so will citizens continue to have trust in them and politicians.
The entire premise of the editorial has been centered around the assertion that the Democratic Party has taken a low-key approach after their first press conference and therefore the Dongguan Public Security Bureau's charge that "certain organization's persistent mud-slinging hardly tallies with fact." Well, do these people even read newspapers? I will ask you to go back to the top of this post and re-read the excerpts from the western media, such as:
Comparing the alleged smear campaign with the negative electioneering of Western democracies, [Legco candidate Fred] Li said Democrats here faced one big difference. "We have the Chinese Communist Party against us. That is a far bigger challenge." Li's remarks followed similar claims by Democrat Law Chi-kwong who said the jailing of a fellow party member in China for allegedly hiring a prostitute, and recent claims that another one misused public funds, were part of a conspiracy.
The above excerpts were obtained by Googling the name 'Alex Ho' in English. Obviously, there is much more coverage in the local Chinese-language media. Here is one example, from the same Ming Pao newspaper on August 27th:
[translation] Faced with a string of unfavorable scandals, the Democrats insisted that someone is smearing them. They descibed to the media that "there is a huge machine which is collecting black material on them." But they have not been able to produce the evidence. Using the example of Kowloon East candidate Alex Ho being arrested for patronizing a prostitute, the Democratic Party used a "sex trap" as the explanation when the case broke into the open.
A district councillor detained in Guangdong after being caught with a prostitute has narrowly retained his seat following a four-month absence. Kwun Tong District Council members voted 21-18 not to expel Democratic Party member Alex Ho Wai-to.
They approved a written application for leave by Ho, who is serving six months' re-education through labour in Dongguan and has not attended a council meeting since his arrest in August. Under council regulations, any member who fails to attend meetings for four consecutive months without leave should be barred.
Ho, whose arrest meant he was absent from the Legislative Council elections and may have cost the democrats support, is expected to be released next month, around Lunar New Year.
Two councillors abstained from yesterday's ballot, while a proxy vote was cast for Ho. The vote followed a brief debate on whether moral standards should be a factor in the council's decision.
"The whole world knows why he could not come back. If we agree to his application, it will damage the reputation and the moral standard of the council," said councillor Fan Wai-kong.
But Winnie Poon Yam Wai-chun said moral standards were not the core issue in the leave application. "As an elected councillor, he should ultimately be held accountable to his voters." Democrat councillor Grace Au Yuk-har said that certain individuals could easily be framed under the mainland legal system.
Chan Kam-lam, a legislator from the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong, said Ho should consider tendering his resignation after returning to his position. "This will affect public confidence in the council and its credibility."
Almost unknown as a politician before his detention in Dongguan, Alex Ho Wai-to emerges from jail as a household figure, his name in headlines for hiring a mainland prostitute.
He was not a prominent figure in the months before last September's Legislative Council election. The Kwun Tong District councillor was in third place on the Democratic Party list of candidates in Kowloon East.
His arrest on August 13 - and sentence of six months in custody and education - was initially described by party members and his wife as a frame-up. Speaking at a press conference on August 16, they said the arrest was an attack on the party's popularity. But the party retreated from its claim one day later, saying they did not want to dwell on the question of whether Mr Ho had visited a prostitute.
"There is no evidence to show whether it was, or was not, a trap," lawmaker Fred Li Wah-ming said.
On August 17, the Dongguan Public Security Bureau released details of the case at a press conference, saying they found Mr Ho and a prostitute, 25, naked in a hotel bed during a raid. He later signed a confession and was ordered to undergo six months of custody and re-education at Dongguan Dalan Detention Centre.
The Democratic Party was keen to take damage-control measures, to soften the possible adverse impact the incident might bring. But the Dongguan police chose to release explicit pictures of what they claimed was evidence showing Mr Ho had hired a prostitute - just four days before the Legco election.
The photographs included one of a half-naked Mr Ho. His detention ensured he missed the election, and party members said the scandal had contributed to their dismal performance.
Controversy erupted just a week later over the disparity in sentencing when a Hong Kong policeman, David Liu Hong-man, was sentenced to 15 days in custody. He too had been arrested with a prostitute, during an anti-vice operation in Shenzhen, a few days after Mr Ho.
While Mr Ho has regained his freedom, uncertainties remain about his career. Last Thursday members of Kwun Tong District Council approved a written application for leave by Mr Ho, following his absence.
But there have already been calls for him to face the voters and explain the incident or even to resign, to maintain the council's image.
(SCMP) Democrats in no rush to discipline Alex Ho. By Klaudia Lee. January 29, 2005.
Democratic Party leaders say they will not rule out disciplinary proceedings against district councillor Alex Ho Wai-to, who has returned from the mainland after being detained for patronising a prostitute.
The Democrats stressed that they would discuss the issue with Mr Ho and his family before deciding on any follow-up action.
Party chairman Lee Wing-tat rejected accusations from some lawmakers and district councillors that the party was being evasive amid calls for Mr Ho to resign from Kwun Tong District Council.
Mr Ho, 46, was released two weeks early after being sentenced to six months of custody and education in Dongguan .
Mr Lee called on the public to give Mr Ho time to receive treatment for hepatitis and recuperate.
"As the chairman of the Democratic Party, I won't refrain from meeting the public," Mr Lee said.
"We've already met [the press] immediately. As a political party, we know we're responsible to the public, but on the other hand, we have to understand and respect Mr Ho and his family. Before the discussions, we can't decide on our next step."
He added: "I will not demand that the disciplinary committee discuss the case until we understand Mr Ho's situation."
He said the party's leaders understood the public had high expectations of political parties and public officials.
Fred Li Wah-ming - who headed the party's election list in Kowloon East, where Mr Ho was a candidate in September's Legislative Council polls - said he was angry with Mr Ho when he was arrested in August because it had dealt a blow to their campaign.
"[But] it's been a long time since the incident happened, he has already paid for what he did. He has been detained for 5 1/2 months and lost his job. What else does he owe us?" Mr Li asked.
He acknowledged that the public had a right to know the truth but said the disciplinary committee would act only if it received a complaint. He said disciplinary action could range from an expression of regret or a public reprimand to expulsion.
Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong legislator Chan Kam-lam, who is also a Kwun Tong district councillor, said Mr Ho should resign.
"As a public figure, citizens have high expectations of him. It's difficult for him to explain his acts," he said.
He also called on the Democratic Party to publicly explain the incident, especially its initial allegations that the detention was a frame-up.
Liberal Party vice-chairman Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee said all politicians were responsible to their constituents.
Disgraced Democrat Party member Alex Ho, who was detained on the mainland for more than five months after being accused of patronizing a prostitute, has returned to Hong Kong.
At about 3:30 pm Friday, a car believed to be carrying Ho, left the highly guarded detention center at Dalang in Dongguan city as a wall of public security officers blocked reporters attempting to approach him.
After crossing the Hong Kong border, Ho's whereabouts were concealed by party members who said he needed time off for a rest and for a medical check.
Ho's release came weeks earlier than expected as his original sentence was for six months' "custody and education.''
Although it has been more than five months since the scandal first rocked the party, Ho's release is expected to drive the democrats into crisis management high-gear again with the public hungering for Ho's account of what actually happened.
The 47-year-old Kwun Tong district councillor was running for a Legislative Council seat when he was arrested in a high-end hotel in Dongguan by police in August last year.
During what the mainland authorities described as a province-wide anti-vice campaign, Ho was found naked in a hotel in Humen town with a 25-year-old woman from Anhui.
Shocked by the arrest, which happened only one month before the September poll, democrats originally claimed Ho had confessed under duress.
They also said it was part of a pre-election smear campaign against the party.
In a rare move, Dongguan police held two press conferences in which they described Ho as "a man with wicked habits,'' to justify the arrest with pictures of the half-naked Ho exhibited to the media.
Ho failed to gain a seat in the Legco in September but remains a district councillor.
Prior to his release, democrats said Friday morning they had learnt of his release Thursday from Ho's wife, Carol Ho, who accompanied him back to Hong Kong.
Senior party members said they had not decided whether Ho will face disciplinary action.
"Give us some time to take care of it,'' party chairman Lee Wing-tat said later.
"We know that as a political party we should give an account of what happened but we also have to respect Alex Ho and his wife.''
Fred Li, who ran for Legco last year with Ho, said he was glad about his colleague's early release.
"It is good news as we had hoped that Ho would be freed and allowed to return to Hong Kong to celebrate the Lunar New Year with his family,'' Li said.
"I will talk to him and discuss with him the way forward.''
Ho managed to retain his district council seat after a majority of council members ruled last Thursday that his absence was valid.
Alex Ho returned to Hong Kong after serving 5-1/2 months of labor education. While this was undoubtedly a good thing for his family, it is a ticking bomb for the Democratic Party, which does not know the magnitude of the problem nor how to disarm it. The biggest problem is that they don't know what Alex Ho might say to the public, leaving the party in a quandry between supporting him fully or abandoning him at a low point of his life. Either way, it could look ugly.
Everything began when Alex Ho insisted in the beginning that he was 'framed.' Since then, there were three separate occasions when he was rumored to be released. Actually, these rumors did not come out of nowhere. Our source told us that the mainland authorities were ready to release him, but Alex Ho insisted that he did not patronize any prostitutes and criticized the relevant government departments. He was therefore deemed to be uncooperative and was not given an earlier release.
Our understanding is that Alex Ho has held firm to this position. For the Democratic Party, what will they do if Alex Ho keeps insisting that he was framed? How will the Democratic Party support him? How will they explain to the citizens? How will the party discipline committee handle this matter? In an atmosphere in which politicians are held to lofty standards, can the Democratic Party keep an apparently immoral member? These various issues have created dilemmas for the Democratic Pary.
A Democratic Party insider sighed that if Alex Ho were not a member of the Democratic Party, his term could not have been this long and he would have been released early. "I don't know how many months of his term were served on behalf of the Democratic Party." It would be difficult to abandon Alex Ho.
Our sources indicated that Alex Ho had promised before he was released that he will not talk about his arrest and prison time when he returns to Hong Kong. Ho's friends say that he has relatives living on mainland China, and he is therefore unlikely to talk about what happened in Dongguan because it may cause problems for those relatives.
But the political opponents of the Democratic Party are not going to let go easily. DAB's Chan Kam-lum believes that Alex Ho must explain the event to the public next week after he has gotten a couple days of rest. "Previously, the Democratic Party said that he was 'framed', so they must account for that. When Commerce and Technology Department head Tsang Chun-wah wrote a couple of essays, the Democratic Party wanted him to resign for 'lying.' If the Democratic Party does not explain why they said that Alex Ho was 'framed,' then they are also 'lying.'"
Alex Ho who was incarcerated for 5-1/2 months in mainland China has been staying in a hospital and so far has not given an account of the prostitute incident. Yesterday, Democratic Party vice chairman Chan King-ming arrived at the hospital at around 11am and left about 2pm. He told the reporters that Ho told them about his arrest and his prison life. Chan said: "According to his description, the conditions are poor inside and he was mentally tortured." A reporter asked: "Based upon your understanding of the situation, was he framed this time or did he actually do it?" Chan replied: "Based upon my initial understanding, he was framed. There is no need for me to say more." No matter how hard the reporters pressed him, he declined to describe how Ho was "framed."
Later, Chan responded to our reporter's follow-up. He said that the Democratic Party has issued an internal notice not to quote Ho, who should give the account himself. But Ho's experience caused Chan to "speak up because I could not hold back." (「忍唔住，要講出來」)
Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat said that Chan's words do not represent the position of the Democratic Party. "I believe that he spoke in haste. The Democratic Party has not discussed this matter as yet." (「我相信他是口快快講出來，民主黨未就這件事作討論」)
In truth, the Democratic Party leaders are worried that if Ho insists that he was framed, there would be an adverse effect among the citizens. They are also concerned that this would begin an all-out war with the Chinese government and it will be a neverending affair. The Ho family is also concerned about their family members living in mainland China. Therefore Ho's public position will depend on an evaluation on these various pressures.
Forward Reference: Alex Ho Meets The Press (February 5, 2005)