29 Nov 1945, Chronology of Events Related to Stanley Civilian Internment Camp | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

29 Nov 1945, Chronology of Events Related to Stanley Civilian Internment Camp

Date(s) of events described: 
Thu, 29 Nov 1945

A meeting called by David MacDougall is held this morning to consider the current situation with regard to the investigation, arrest and prosecution of 'quislings and collaborators'. Those present include BAAG agent Marcus da Silva and Stanley Camp escaper  W. P. 'Tommy' Thompson, now a Lieutenant-Colonel.

In the first days after the liberation, there was a clamour for the prosecution of anyone who was suspected of having collaborated with the Japanese, but this died down quickly, and now the authorities are left with a complex problem. Firstly, although most of the victims of Japanese brutality were Chinese, so were many of those accused of helping the perpetrators carry them out or contributing to their rule in other ways. Of course, as almost 99% of the pre-war population was Chinese, this is hardly surpising. The other main group under suspicion were Indians, who had been wooed by the Japanese and given favourable treatment at first in the hope that the soldiers would join the Indian National Army and the civilians would join the Indian Independence League which gave political support for Japanese plans for India. Most Indians, military and civilian, resisted these attempts, or went along with them half-heartedly for their own security. The Indian community provided a significant portion of the funds for Dr. Selwyn-Clarke's relief work during the occupation, and most POWs resisted sometimes brutal attempts to get them to join the INA. But some had decided that the cause of Indian independence justified co-operation with the Japanese enemies of the Raj - this was an issue that would prove intractable for the British in India itself, and today's meeting in Hong Kong takes place against the backdrop of the first of the 'Red Fort trials' in Delhi - an attempt to try prominent members of the INA that was to meet with huge resistance all over India and eventually to hasten Britain's exit. The new Government of India was eventually to send a lawyer to represent those Indians who came to trial in Hong Kong, and the accounts of the war crimes trial show he was a skilled and formidable advocate.

As well as having to tread carefully to avoid having a negative influence on the politics of the sub-continent, the Hong Kong authorities faced a further problem: it would be embarrassing for a colony seeking to distance itself from its pre-war racism to only be trying Asians for collaboration. The 'solution' of trying three or four 'white' (or at least only partly Asian) people proved controversial and unsatisfactory, particularly as none of them were 'British': the authorities are considering the case of civil servant George Kennedy-Skipton, but nothing will come of this in the form of immediate legal action, although he will eventually face a Tribunal which judges him innocent of any charge but dereliction of duty as a civil servant. Of those charged, one man was amnestied, another had his prosecution abandoned and two people were jailed under controversial circumstances - in one case, many felt he had done no more than others who escaped any legal proceedings, and in another the defence of extreme duress seemed rather plausible. To make matters worse, through no fault of the Hong Kong authorities, the one 'British' man tried for collaboration in the colony (in Shamshuipo) was eventually acquitted in London after a brilliant performance from his legal team

Nevertheless, there were those who had helped the Japanese torture and kill Chinese people, and public opinion would not have been satisfied unless at least the most notorious of such collaborators were brought to justice. In the end most of those punished were people who had helped the Kempeitai (Gendarmes) with their campaign of violence - this was in line with a request from the (British) Government of India that only those involved with 'atrocities and brutality' be punished. In theory anyone who gave the Japanese militarily relevant help during the hostilities was also liable to prosecution, although in the only case I've come across so far the accused was amnestied. Merchants who directly supplied the Japanese war effort were also investigated and one was sent to prison.

But today's meeting deals with more immediate problems: the police are still 80% under strength for a start, and there's a public opinion disaster in the making: some supects have been held under arrest without access to solicitors for two months. This seems to have been for fear that unless kept incommunicado the suspects would intimidate already nervous witnesses.Understandably the committee want to show the public they are not 'aping Jap methods'. The best they can do is to rule that the police should hold suspects for a 'reasonable time' and that future arrests should only take place after consultation with da Silva or with Eldon Potter (K.C.) as to lawfulness. 

Sources:

General: Hong Kong Public Records Office: HKRS 169, 2-266 Collaboration with the Enemy, Memo of David MacDougall, November 29, 1945, p. 1 and various documents

HK and the INA: https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/captain-mateen-ahmed-ansari/