Timing under debate as nine Occupy participants charged a day after Carrie Lam wins chief executive election
Experts question if political considerations were at play
Experts and lawmakers in Hong Kong are debating whether political considerations were in play after nine key players in the city’s 2014 Occupy protest were charged just a day after Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor won a leadership election.
Civic Party chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit, who is a senior counsel, believed that political factors were behind the timing, questioning why police chose to charge the nine on Monday when the force was given advice by the Department of Justice months ago.
“When I was still a lawmaker, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung ... said in the Legislative Council that the Department of Justice had already provided legal advice (to police). That was half a year ago,” Leong said in a Commercial Radio programme on Tuesday.
“It was then up to police to decide when to start the process of arresting and charging [the participants].”
He elaborated: “The [chief executive] election took place on March 26. Then on March 27 at around 9am, (police) phoned the Occupy Central trio.
“Why was there such a timing when the files were already passed to police half a year ago? Why did [the force] pick that day? If no political considerations were involved, what considerations were involved?”
On Monday, nine leaders and key participants of the Occupy movement which shook Hong Kong for 79 days were charged.
The three co-founders – Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, University of Hong Kong legal academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting and academic Chan Kin-man – face three counts each: conspiracy to commit public nuisance, inciting others to commit public nuisance, and inciting people to incite others to commit public nuisance. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail.
Leong believed that Lam played no role in the timing of the prosecutions, as she would not have wanted the press to throw such questions at her while she was on a tour to visit people in different districts on Monday.
Nathan Law Kwun-chung, lawmaker from the Demosisto political party, said on an RTHK programme that the move by police came at a “sensitive” timing just as chief executive-elect Lam had pledged to unite a divided city.
Law questioned if the timing was planned by incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying so that many of those who held views opposing the government could be in jail by the time Lam officially takes over as the city’s leader in July.
Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a senior counsel and convenor of the Path of Democracy think tank, said on the same RTHK programme that the timing was “unfortunate”. But he added that it was not correct for people to say the charges were “political prosecutions” because Occupy was a civil disobedience campaign.
The Occupy leaders and participants were also charged on the same day that former superintendent Franklin Chu King-wai was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm after hitting passer-by Osman Cheng Chung-hang with his baton during the Occupy protests.
Tong, when asked if he thought the timing of the two charges was linked, said that if they were to be charged, they would be charged some day anyway.
On Tuesday morning, Leung cited a Monday statement from the Department of Justice that said no political considerations were involved in both the timing or targets of the Occupy prosecutions.
Asked if the prosecutions would embarrass chief executive-elect Lam – who earlier said her top task was to heal the social divide – Leung reiterated that the decision was independently made by the Department of Justice.