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The Philippines

Families of Hong Kong men jailed for life in Philippines on drugs charge vow to continue legal fight

  • Decision expected on Monday about whether to apply for judicial review or appeal against sentence
  • Men were sentenced to life in prison for possession of half a kilogram of methamphetamine
PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2018, 1:19pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2018, 9:47pm

The families of four Hong Kong men sentenced to life in prison in the Philippines on a drugs charge will decide on Monday whether to apply for a judicial review or appeal against the sentence after consulting lawyers.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who has been helping the families, again urged the central and Hong Kong governments to express concerns, arguing the trial was unfair and that dubious evidence was staged to save face after local media were invited on a police operation.

Last Friday, Lo Wing-fai, Chan Kwok-tung, Kwok Kam-wah and Leung Shu-fook were sentenced to life in prison by a Philippine court for possession of half a kilogram of methamphetamine.

They claimed they were framed and denied all charges of manufacturing illegal substances and possession of the drug, also known as “Ice”. The court found them guilty of possession while acquitting them of manufacturing illegal substances.

The following day, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor promised to help, urging the Southeast Asian nation to guarantee fair and humane treatment for the men.

Lam did not say whether she would seek help from the central government during a visit to Beijing that began on Saturday.

“For ordinary people like us, the amount of money is huge,” Lo’s elder sister Ivy Lo Shu-ho said on a radio programme on Monday. “We don’t have the financial ability [to continue].

“Inmates in the Philippines need to fund their way through prison. Without money, they don’t even have beds to sleep in.”

Families call on Beijing and Hong Kong governments to intervene after four men from city jailed for life in Philippines on drugs charge

She said her family had already emptied their pockets since the four were arrested two years ago, estimating they had spent about HK$2 million (US$255,000). It included legal fees of about HK$1 million and the expense of supporting their relatives in prison and visiting them.

They planned to crowdfund support for further legal moves with an initial goal of HK$4 million.

“These men are fishermen who took on a side job to drive a boat from the Philippines to mainland China. This was something normal they would do every now and then. They are simple people with no background in making drugs,” To said on Monday.

“There were many doubts in the evidence … and if it had taken place in a Hong Kong court, they would not have been convicted.”

To said there was evidence to prove the four had spent a few nights at hotels until someone called them to pick up a 50-metre fishing boat off the coast of Zambales province, northwest of Manila.

When they tried to board the boat, they were arrested at gunpoint by officers, in the presence of a group of Filipino reporters as part of a high-profile operation led by the country’s then police chief, Ronald dela Rosa.

Life sentences handed to four Hongkongers in Philippines on drug charge

One video clip showed officers emptying Leung Shu-fook’s backpack onto the floor with no sign of drugs, To said. But after taking the backpack off camera for a second search, officers discovered the drugs.

While no drugs were found on the boat, officers did find cooking materials that could have been used to produce meth – but there was no trace of drugs on the utensils.

To believed this was key evidence that proved it was a set-up, and suggested there had been a fear of losing face after inviting the media to follow the operation.

He added that even if the drugs were not planted, it was outrageous for all four men to be convicted, since they had slept at separate hotels.

“How would they know what was in each other’s bag?” To said. “But the judge said since they came to the country together, they must have known.”

When the defence lawyer argued against the evidence, the judge demanded that Joshua Antonio – a defence witness and local television reporter who had covered the arrest – prove how and who had set the men up.

To asked: “We can only show there were doubts in the evidence. How can we find out who planted it?

“We have lost faith in the judicial system [in the Philippines] and there is really no way to tell what good an appeal can do.”

Lo said she and other family members were enraged and saddened by the decision, but she would not give up because she believed the men were innocent.