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Hong Kong’s No 2 official defends court rulings, hits out at media ‘bias’ over jailing of democracy activists

Hong Kong Bar Association and Law Society issue joint statement rejecting accusations ruling was politically motivated

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 August, 2017, 6:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 3:05pm

Hong Kong’s No 2 official on Saturday launched a strong defence of the city’s courts in jailing young pro-democracy activists, hitting out at “biased” reports by foreign media, and insisting the fallout would not harm the government’s efforts to reach out to alienated youth.

Commenting on the Court of Appeal’s decision this week to jail Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang for six to eight months over an illegal protest, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said judicial independence remained the cornerstone of the city’s success.

“We’ve got a fiercely independent judiciary in Hong Kong, and the due process has been observed in reaching the decision of the Court of Appeal, so it’s something beyond dispute,” he said.

“The Bar Association and the Hong Kong Law Society last night issued a joint statement categorically denying any link with outside factors, any factors other than the law, involved in the decision of the court.

“There is bias in the views of foreign media ... and the Bar Association and the Law Society have clarified that the court’s decision was not affected by political considerations.”

Read the Hong Kong Court of Appeal’s ruling on Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, jailed for 2014 protest

Cheung was referring to a rare joint statement by the city’s two biggest groups of legal professionals hitting out at both local and mainland media for suggesting there were political motives behind the prison terms for the trio as well as 13 other democracy activists in a separate case earlier this week.

The two legal bodies often take opposing positions on issues, with the Bar Association seen as a more liberal group that has been known to be critical of the government and Beijing, while the Law Society is perceived as more pro-establishment.

Law Society president Thomas So Shiu-tsung told the Post on Saturday those “allegations were obviously not supported by facts”.

“We issued a joint statement partly because our stance on the judiciary is unanimous ... and the important principles are clear.”

“Unfounded comments that judicial decisions were made or influenced by political considerations originating outside Hong Kong are unjustified and damaging to our legal system, and to Hong Kong as a whole,” the two groups said on Friday

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Law Society council member and former president Stephen Hung Wan-shun told the Post on Saturday that they had made a united stand because “the media went too far in accusing the judges of falling under mainland influence”.

“US politicians and ... media criticised the judges for being influenced by the central government, when we saw that we felt we need to speak up,” Hung said.

Executive Councillor Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a former chairman of the Bar Association, also said it was necessary for the two organisations to set the record straight.

Their defence of the city’s judicial system came as 25 foreign politicians, lawyers and activists issued a joint statement calling for the release of the three student leaders, while local democratic groups joined forces to urge citizens to take to the streets on Sunday in “support of the political prisoners and rejection of political persecution”.

The jailing of the trio on Thursday for storming the government headquarters compound at Tamar in the run-up to the 79-day Occupy protests of 2014 marked the government’s second successful attempt in a week to secure tougher sentences for protesting activists.

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“Don’t let these issues make you feel that our youth policy will be affected,” Cheung said. “Hong Kong’s young people are our future, and as we promised an open attitude in listening to people on different sides of the political spectrum, we won’t change our view because of that.”

The court rulings and the government’s campaign to connect with youth were “two separate issues”, he added, reiterating plans to appoint 20 to 30 of them as advisers to the Central Policy Unit, an official think tank.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor would announce details in her maiden policy address on October 11, he said.