Cut the criticism, Beijing tells HK
Fanny W. Y. Fung and Shi Jiangtao
The controversy over the sentencing of tainted-milk activist Zhao Lianhai took a political twist yesterday, as Beijing's new man overseeing Hong Kong affairs warned against interference with the mainland judiciary under the 'one country, two systems' principle.
The remarks by Wang Guangya came as three Hong Kong deputies to the National People's Congress confirmed Zhao had been freed on medical parole.
The activist's conviction by the Beijing Daxing District People's Court and imprisonment for 21/2 years sparked outcry in Hong Kong and internationally, with local NPC members speaking out and 28 of them signing a letter to the Supreme People's Court calling for his release.
Responding to the criticism in Beijing yesterday Wang, who assumed office in October as director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said most countries maintained judicial independence and China was no different.
'Others should not interfere,' he said. 'Moreover, I understand that this incident has already been properly settled.'
Asked whether the joint letter from the Hong Kong NPC members to the court amounted to interference, the official said: 'It depends on the way of expression. Under 'one country, two systems', well water should not intrude into river water.'
The expression, derived from a Chinese proverb was used by Communist Party general secretary Jiang Zemin in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown as a warning against Hong Kong meddling in mainland politics.
A 38-year-old father of two, Zhao was jailed last month after he organised a parents' group, the Home for Kidney Stone Babies, to seek justice for children whose health had been affected by milk contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine.
Denying having interfered with the mainland judiciary, the NPC deputies said it was their job as state lawmakers to monitor national affairs. They also said they did not see Wang's remarks as being aimed at them.
'I believe he was talking about 'one country, two systems' as a general principle,' said Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, who initiated the petition.
'In the letter we stated that we did not know the details of the trial and would not comment on the judgment. It was very clear that we were not trying to interfere with judicial independence. We were only pleading leniency.'
Another signatory, Dr Raymond Ho Chung-tai, shared this view. 'What we did was only write a mitigation letter,' he said.
Veteran deputy Priscilla Lau Pui-king said they had been exercising their duties as NPC members to be a 'check and balance' in national affairs. 'The judicial system is among the state organs we watch,' she said.
Ip Kwok-him, who also signed the petition, said: 'As members of the nation's highest power body, we should certainly be concerned about the matter.'
On Wednesday evening, more than a month after the sentence, a statement appeared on Zhao's personal blog saying he was on medical parole. The statement apologised for the 'radical remarks' he had made against the central government.
There has been no official verification of his release. But Law, Lau and another Hong Kong NPC member, Maria Tam Wai-chu, said they had confirmed the activist was released. 'There is no need to worry; he is now on medical parole for sure,' Tam said.
At a press conference held by the State Council's Information Office, Xiong Xuanguo , vice-president of the Supreme People's Court, said 'this case of Zhao Lianhai was judged by a Beijing court lawfully'.