Key points from Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s defence of decision to jail young activists
On Monday, Hong Kong’s leader fired back at critics of the Court of Appeal after thousands marched in support of jailed protesters Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow
Below are extracts from Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s remarks during a press briefing on Monday evening in which she responded to criticism against the Court of Appeal’s decision to toughen penalties for activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang. The appeal court jailed the trio for six to eight months last week for their role in clashes at the government headquarters at Admiralty, in a prelude to the pro-democracy Occupy protests of 2014, of which they became key leaders. In a magistrate’s court ruling in 2016, Wong and Law were sentenced to a community service order of 80 hours and 120 hours respectively, while Chow was given a three-week jail sentence with one year suspension.
Lam: Regarding the Court of Appeal’s rulings on two sentence review cases last week, I want to make three very important points.
First is, rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people are protected under the Basic Law, but the exercise of these rights and freedoms as pointed out by the court is not without limit – they have, first of all, to be law abiding, so in these two cases, what we are dealing with is not political persecutions or persecution on the basis of expression of the views. But they are unlawful acts, or even acts involving violence.
The second point I want to make is the rule of law is absolutely essential to the successful implementation of “one country, two systems”, and the continued prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.
Indeed, under Basic Law [Article] 63, prosecution decisions are made by the Department of Justice without any interference. So any allegation that the secretary for justice himself or the Department of Justice have made decisions to review the sentences on political grounds are totally unfounded.
The third point I want to make is even more important, and that is the independence of the judiciary. Under Basic Law 85, our courts are exercising judicial powers independently, free from any interference. So any allegation that in these particular cases that judges in the Court of Appeal have made decisions under political interference again are totally unfounded. So I feel duty bound as the chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to make it very clear that there’s absolutely no political interference both in the prosecution, in the review of sentence, and in the judgments and rulings handed down by the Court of Appeal.
It would be totally unfair to target the secretary for justice – even if the decision was made by him, it was made in accordance with the law.
Q: Mrs Lam, I’m sure a lot of people are concerned with the question whether [justice minister] Rimsky Yuen, he himself, took the view that you need to appeal against the sentencing, and he is the only one who decided to overrule that? Are you aware of the fact that he’s going to make the decision before the sentence is submitted to the court?
Lam: Well, as far as the first question is concerned, I had already responded in Cantonese, I just repeat what I have said. I said in every healthy organisation, there will naturally be differences in opinion, there will naturally be deliberations and debates before a decision is made, so this is only natural. But I have not been involved in discussions or the making of prosecution decisions, so I could not confirm or clarify what actually had taken place in this particular case. What I have said is it is only natural, and it would be totally unfair to target the secretary for justice, even if the decision is made by him. It was made in accordance with the law, in accordance with the evidence that they possessed, and also in accordance with the prosecution guidelines that the Department of Justice had been adopting for many years.
I was the person involved during the constitutional development debate, when these incidents took place, and I [was] actually involved in an open debate with five of the student leaders including the two who are now involved in this sentence review. It’s not a question of whether, what I want to see as an outcome, it’s a question of the rule of law, if people have offended and breached the law, then they have to accept the consequence, and this consequence is handed down by the court, and the court acts independently without any interference, in arriving at that decision. But of course our judicial process allows for further appeal, so as far as I understand those involved are perhaps contemplating an appeal, so I would not go into the details of this case any more.
Q: Before [the] secretary for justice made the decision, did he have or not have any communication with his top prosecutors? What are the grounds of his overriding the decisions of his staff? Do you think the Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen should explain to the public? It involves very big public interest.
Lam: I understand that in recent years, people seem to lack trust in the government. But the secretary for justice’s work is very important. It is because he is the gatekeeper of the city’s laws and safeguards the rule of law.
In any organisation, there are bound to [be] discussions and there are bound to [be] different opinions during discussions. As the chief executive, I am making decisions all the time. And some of these decisions, I am afraid, some departments or bureaus may not completely agree with. But at the end of the day, it [depends on] how a decision is made.
If it is because of selfishness, of course it deserves criticism. But if it was based on legal grounds, evidence, and that there has been a long-existing guideline, and it is not biased, I think it should not be criticised arbitrarily. It is not appropriate for us to disclose all internal discussions and explain to you how each one of the decisions is reached. It will directly impact the good and effective governance.
Although I have no legal training and I am not working in the Department of Justice either, and I will not interfere with the secretary for justice’s decisions of prosecution, I have to strongly point out that if you continue criticising [the] secretary for justice in such a way, it is very much unfair.
Q: Do you think the court ruling will affect Hong Kong young people’s taking part in politics and policy discussion? Would it be in conflict with what you have advocated of encouraging more young people to join the government?
Lam: I hope to be able to allow more opportunities for greater participation of young people in policy discussion and in politics. My determination and sincerity will remain intact. I shall do more to show my sincerity of giving young people more opportunities to take part in politics and discussing policies. Whether the young people’s response will be affected, it is difficult for me to speak for them. But I will ask my bureau chiefs and secretaries, my politically appointed officials, to contact more often young people and explain to them that we are very much sincere in allowing them more opportunities to take part in social affairs.
Q: Joshua Wong’s mother and Nathan Law’s mother also questioned why Hong Kong has become so depraved as to go after young people. As a mother yourself, what would you have to say to them?
Lam: We are talking about illegal acts here, and it is the Department of Justice’s responsibility to decide whether to prosecute based on its prosecution guidelines, evidence, and applicable laws. The court ruled that the defendants were guilty. It was also the result of an open trial.
They had the right to lodge an appeal. And as far as I understand, in April, Joshua Wong, Alex Chow, and Nathan Law gave up proceeding with an appeal. It means they accepted that they committed a crime.
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As a mother myself, I am speaking here to their mothers. Of course, I can understand your emotions, but I also remember what I said on October 21, 2014, when I, as the chief secretary, had an open dialogue over political reforms with five students from the Federation of Students, including Alex Chow and Nathan Law.
At that time, as the chief secretary and as a mother of two sons in their 20s, I told them that however noble an ideal may be, you should fight for it by legal and reasonable means. I appealed to them that when they expressed their views or demands, they should do it in a lawful, peaceful and rational way that would not affect other residents’ rights and freedoms. That is the true spirit of democracy.