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The Philippines

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam writes to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte over concerns about jailing of four men on drug charges

  • Chief executive appeals to president in a two-page letter to monitor the case
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 January, 2019, 12:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 January, 2019, 10:53pm

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has written to the Philippine president to raise concerns about four Hongkongers jailed for life on drug charges in the Southeast Asian country, making the case a top-level diplomatic issue.

A spokesman for Lam’s office on Thursday confirmed a letter had been sent to Rodrigo Duterte, but declined to reveal the content.

The announcement came following earlier disclosure of the move by Hong Kong Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who had repeatedly pressed Lam to intervene.

A source familiar with the matter said Lam told the president in the two-page letter that the Hong Kong government was concerned.

“The chief executive wrote on Wednesday that since the charges were serious, and Hong Kong people, including the families involved, were concerned, she would like to draw the president’s attention to the matter and ensure the Hong Kong residents’ well-being and their right to a fair trial are being protected,” the source said.

Another source said Lam mentioned the four men had launched an appeal and that the verdicts had been “a severe blow” to their families.

Lawmaker To has been helping the men as they fight to clear their names. He said the families were grateful that Lam had stepped in.

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

“I hope the chief executive and the Chinese central government will continue to monitor the progress of the case and the men’s fight for a fair trial,” he said.

Lo Shu-ho, sister of one of the men, said the letter had come “a bit late” but she hoped the two leaders were determined to help.

Lo Wing-fai, 44, Chan Kwok-tung, 31, Kwok Kam-wah, 49, and Leung Shu-fook, 51, were sentenced last month to life in jail for the possession of 467.8 grams of methamphetamine.

In 2016, the four men accepted a job sailing a fishing boat from the Philippines to mainland China.

Then Philippine police chief Ronald dela Rosa, who is now running for a seat in the country’s Senate, led a team of officers together with journalists to the vessel and had the men arrested.

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

According to video footage of the incident captured by reporters, the officers initially emptied the men’s bags without finding anything. But the four were then taken briefly to a room with no light, and after being escorted back out, were asked to open their bags again. Inside Leung’s was a brown bag containing drugs.

The group have insisted they are innocent. They are being held in the maximum-security New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa.

Winkey Leung Wing-lam, Leung’s 19-year-old daughter, said Lam’s letter was a “confidence boost” for her, but she still did not want to be too hopeful.

“I am thankful she has expressed her concerns over the case. But I don’t want to be too hopeful. We have been through a lot of ups and downs already,” she said.

To earlier said the Hong Kong and Beijing governments must intervene and tell the Philippines of suspicions surrounding the police operation. Such a move could pressure the country to launch an investigation into the raid, he said.

As of Thursday the families had raised about HK$411,000 (US$52,000) through a crowdfunding campaign to pay for legal fees.

Last Friday the four applied to have the Philippine judge review their case, a process that could take six months.