Law scholar urges Hong Kong justice minister to come clean on process that led to jail time for pro-democracy activists
University of Hong Kong professor Johannes Chan says Rimsky Yuen owes the public an explanation of decision to seek tougher sentences for Occupy leaders
A pro-democracy law scholar has echoed calls for Hong Kong’s justice minister to disclose more details on discussions with his top prosecutors which led to the decision to seek tougher sentences for three former student activists jailed last week.
Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun of the University of Hong Kong said Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung owed the public a complete explanation, saying it was not enough for him to merely reject speculation of “political considerations” in his decision to push for a sentencing review.
Demosisto chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung, the political party’s secretary general Joshua Wong Chi-fung and non-affiliated activist Alex Chow Yong-kang were jailed by the Court of Appeal last week for their part in the storming of the Hong Kong government headquarters complex in 2014 in an illegal protest that triggered the 79-day pro-democracy Occupy sit-ins.
They were originally given community service orders or a suspended jail term last August, but the Department of Justice applied for a review and succeeded in obtaining stiffer penalties.
Professor Chan, speaking on Commercial Radio on Thursday, questioned the severity of the sentences imposed on the trio.
“They are not hardcore criminals,” he said. “I am not saying I support their acts … but considering their age, I think we need to be more considerate of our young people.”
Justice chief rejects claims of ulterior motive behind sentence review that jailed Hong Kong pro-democracy activists
But Chan conceded that Yuen had followed the proper legal procedures in filing his application for a sentencing review, and said he was satisfied there had been no “political considerations” involved in the Court of Appeal ruling.
It was “going too far” to suggest the judges had not been neutral and was merely groundless speculation, he said.
He noted media reports had claimed Yuen overruled recommendations by his top prosecutors not to seek stiffer sentences, and said he believed Hong Kong’s director of public prosecutions had been involved in discussions over the “politically sensitive” case.
“The director of public prosecutions is responsible for criminal prosecution and he is the expert in criminal law. If he advised against a review but the secretary for justice did not hear him, then that would be a very different story,” Chan said.
“It is very rare that the secretary for justice would reject the advice of his top prosecutor. It seems, from media reports, that the last time such a case took place was in the Sally Aw Sian case.”
Aw, then chairwoman of media firm Sing Tao Holdings, was named as a co-conspirator in charges brought against three executives of the group in 1998. In a 2013 interview with the Post, former director of public prosecutions Grenville Cross revealed he had advised that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Aw, but was overruled by then secretary for justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie.
The decision not to prosecute Aw sparked a major legal controversy. Leung said among her considerations was that it might cause the collapse of Aw’s company and the loss of many jobs.
On Sunday, an estimated 22,000 demonstrators took to the streets in protest against the jailing of the three pro-democracy activists last week, with many condemning it as “political persecution”.
In an article published in the Post on Thursday, Yuen rejected “groundless” accusations that the government had an ulterior motive in pushing for harsher sentences. But he did not touch on the reports of him overruling his prosecutors.