Occupy Central

Justice chief rejects claims of ulterior motive behind sentence review that jailed Hong Kong pro-democracy activists

Rimsky Yuen calls accusations groundless and says sentencing review for former Occupy student leaders was done by the book

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 August, 2017, 8:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 August, 2017, 11:17pm

Hong Kong’s justice minister has rejected “groundless” accusations that the government had an “ulterior motive” in securing tougher sentences for three young pro-democracy activists, who were jailed for six to eight months as a result last week.

Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung’s stout defence, in an article for the Post, came a day after Paul Shieh Wing-tai, former chairman of the Bar Association, urged the minister to explain why he had insisted on seeking to overturn the lighter sentences.

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow are in jail because Hong Kong law demands it

Demosisto party chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung, secretary general Joshua Wong Chi-fung and non-affiliated activist Alex Chow Yong-kang were jailed by the Court of Appeal last week for storming the government’s headquarters in 2014 in an illegal protest which triggered the Occupy pro-democracy sit-ins that paralysed the city.

They were originally given community service orders and a suspended jail term in August last year, but the justice department applied for a review and succeeded in obtaining stiffer penalties.

On Monday, the Department of Justice issued a statement rejecting speculation about “political prosecutions”.

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In a 980-word article for the Post, Yuen elaborated on the department’s arguments.

“Some have queried the timing of the review applications … Any suggestion of an ulterior motive on the part of the prosecution is simply groundless,” he wrote.

Yuen explained that the prosecution had lodged the review applications within the “relevant time prescribed by the statutes” last year, but the Court of Appeal could not deal with them until the trio had abandoned their appeal against conviction in April.

“The timing of these steps was not within the control of the prosecution,” he wrote.

Yuen, also a former Bar Association chairman, added that while the public had a right to discuss judicial decisions, it was “regrettable that some of the comments sought to attack our judiciary” or undermine its integrity or impartiality.

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Yuen earlier declined to confirm or deny reports that he had overruled recommendations by top prosecutors that the government should not seek stiffer sentences. He did not touch on those reports in his article.

On Sunday, 22,000 demonstrators, according to a police estimate, took to the streets to decry the jailing of the trio, as well as 13 others imprisoned last week by the same panel of judges over another illegal protest in June 2014.