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Rimsky Yuen has upheld the law as Hong Kong’s justice secretary, and deserved better treatment

Michael Chugani says the outgoing justice secretary has prioritised the rule of law during his term, standing up to protesters, police and even Beijing where needed. His critics are twisting the truth

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2017, 2:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2017, 7:06pm

Will no one stand up for departing Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung? Then I will. Those who have maliciously trampled on him twist the truth to serve their political agenda.

These people have accused Yuen of everything from selling out our rule of law to doing Beijing’s bidding in securing jail terms for three young activists who incited or took part in the scaling of a security fence at government headquarters, triggering the Occupy movement.

They even falsely claim that he complied when Beijing interpreted the Basic Law, which forced local courts to oust six opposition legislators for improper oath-taking.

The truth is Yuen in effect rebuked Beijing by saying local courts could have handled the matter on their own. Simple yet powerful words.

Perhaps his critics would have preferred he sink to their level of clownish antics. Maybe he should have protested against the interpretation by hurling bananas at mainland officials or booing the national anthem.

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Yuen’s most rabid critics, like legislator Claudia Mo Man-ching, say he appealed against the community service sentences of Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, and the suspended sentence of Alex Chow Yong-kang for political reasons. I suggest they read up on the law before making claims that expose their ignorance.

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Hong Kong’s justice secretary has as much legal right as a defendant to appeal against a sentence. The law actually puts a bigger burden of proof on the justice secretary contesting a lenient sentence than a defendant appealing against a harsh one. If Yuen had not appealed, the norm for offences such as storming government headquarters and injuring security guards would have been no jail time.

It is false that Yuen held off appealing until after Wong and Law had completed community service. He had to wait while they dilly-dallied over their own appeal against conviction. Yuen appealed only after all three decided against appealing, by which time Wong and Law had mostly served their sentences.

How has Yuen sold out our rule of law when during his term the courts convicted seven police officers who beat up an Occupy protester, a superintendent who baton-whipped a pedestrian, and four people who attacked Law at the airport?

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Yuen’s critics say he delayed charging the superintendent for political reasons. These people reek of hypocrisy when they ignore the fact that Yuen has yet to charge dozens of Occupy protesters.

Some accuse appellate judge Wally Yeung Chun-kuen, one of three judges who jailed Wong, Law and Chow for six to eight months, of eroding rule of law by writing in his judgment of an unhealthy trend where people use the pretext of pursuing ideals to break the law.

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If that makes the jail sentence politically motivated, what about the judgment of magistrate June Cheung Tin-ngan, who spared the three jail time? She said they didn’t deserve detention because their genuinely held political ideals led them to break the law. So why does Yeung’s judgment smack of politics but Cheung’s does not?

The fact that Hong Kong’s highest court has agreed to hear the trio’s appeal against jail time debunks claims that our rule of law has eroded.

Legislator Dennis Kwok Wing-hang hit the nail on the head when he said on radio we are a free city in an authoritarian country. Like it or not, we have to accept this reality, instead of uselessly casting stones at a Goliath. Yuen knew the futility of casting stones.

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He didn’t sell out our rule of law. He cared for it deeply, telling me once that his primary objective as justice secretary was to protect it. It has not eroded under him.

If anything, the courts have been unusually lenient towards Occupy protesters but not to those who opposed Occupy.

I do not know why Yuen has quit but I suspect he is fed up. Quitting when you no longer believe in something is the noblest thing. His critics won’t understand that.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host