Ex-Bar Association head wants Hong Kong justice chief to clear the air on jailing of activist trio
Paul Shieh SC says Rimsky Yuen should elaborate on reasons for pushing ahead with sentence review that led to prison terms for protesters in order to remove doubts about move being politically motivated
A former Bar Association chairman has called on Hong Kong’s justice chief to explain why he insisted on a sentencing review that threw three leading student activists into jail, overturning previous lighter sentences.
The plea by Paul Shieh Wing-tai, after the ruling that had sparked a protest on Sunday, was viewed as a good but impractical idea by the Law Society. It warned that such a move could set a precedent and place further pressure on prosecutors if their internal discussions on future cases had to be made public.
Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang were spared prison terms last August over their role in clashes at the government headquarters in 2014, but were jailed by the Court of Appeal for six to eight months after the sentencing review last Thursday. The decision prompted 22,000 people, according to police estimates, to take to the streets on Sunday in protest at what they called “political persecution”.
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Tuesday saw two of the three activists photographed in handcuffs and prison uniforms for the first time as they were transferred to separate institutions after five nights at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre. Prison sources said Chow was taken to Pik Uk Prison near Sai Kung, while Law was sent to Tong Fuk Correctional Institution on Lantau.
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Wong, who is now at the maximum security Pik Uk Correctional Institution for young prisoners, is expected to be transferred to another correctional facility after he turns 21 in October.
Speaking on a radio programme on Tuesday, Shieh said the Court of Appeal had laid down the reasons behind the acceptance of the reviews, but the Department of Justice had not been transparent over how it came to its decision.
He called on Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung to elaborate on the reasons behind the application for a review, to convince the public.
Asked if he believed any political motive was involved in the review decision, Shieh responded “half-half”, saying it was in the end a matter of trust.
Responding to Shieh’s call, Law Society council member Stephen Hung Wan-shun said: “It was a good but not a practical idea.” Hung said the Department of Justice had the power to prosecute and lodge sentence reviews without disclosing reasons. “If Yuen explains, it is a good thing for the public. But from the perspective of the department, it may face questions about why this case is exceptional,” he said.
Hung also expressed concern that prosecutors may feel pressure at meetings if details of discussions are made public.
Yuen earlier declined to confirm or deny reports that he had overruled top prosecutors’ recommendations that the government not seek stiffer punishment.