Carrie Lam

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam lashes out at UK politicians for ‘disrespectful’ comments on jailing of activist trio

Chief executive defends city’s judicial independence, says Hong Kong will ‘scale new heights’ under ‘one country, two systems’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 10:18am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 11:21pm

Hong Kong’s leader has strongly defended the city’s judicial independence before top officials and business leaders in London, lashing out at “disrespectful” and “disturbing” remarks by British politicians and commentators who objected to the jailing of three pro-democracy activists last month.

Speaking at a high-powered dinner in London, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor also said Hong Kong would continue to thrive because it “remains one of the safest cities in the world”, as she expressed sympathy for the victims of terrorist attacks in Britain.

Lam did not mince words in front of an audience that included Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to London.

China cannot ‘choke off’ Hong Kong’s democratic aspirations, says former governor Chris Patten

After a video showcasing Hong Kong’s infrastructure and business advantages, Lam expressed confidence that the city would continue to succeed under the “one country, two systems” policy with Beijing’s support.

Watch: What does “one country, two systems” mean?

“The good things you have seen about Hong Kong ... are underpinned by core values, including the rule of law,” she went on to say.

“It is therefore extremely disturbing for me to know that some politicians and commentators here in the United Kingdom are querying the independence of our judges over [their] judgments, without any sound basis.

“Those comments are totally ... disrespectful of our judges, including illustrious UK judges who sit on our Court of Final Appeal.”

Lam did not name anyone, but after three former student leaders were jailed over an illegal protest in the run-up to 2014’s Occupy pro-democracy sit-ins, a group of 25 foreign politicians and activists, including former British foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind, had condemned the sentences, calling the trio “political prisoners” and demanding their release.

The jail terms were prompted by a successful push by Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung for a sentencing review after the activists were previously handed more lenient punishments by the courts.

Former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, on a four-day visit to Hong Kong, said: “If she’d named me, she would be mistaken. I never ever, ever, ever criticised Hong Kong judges. I criticised the secretary for justice.”

On Tuesday, Patten said Yuen had made a “political decision”, but he made it clear the following day that he disagreed with those who called the three “political prisoners” and he did not think the judiciary was being politicised.

Referring to Britain’s problems with terrorism, Lam said: “At a time when public order seems to be in disarray – and here my sympathy goes to victims of several terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom – Hong Kong remains one of the safest cities in the world.”

“Friends and supporters of Hong Kong ... I am sure you will continue to give us your wise counsel and speak up for Hong Kong when this city you love is being unfairly attacked,” she concluded.

Lam’s visit to the British capital from Wednesday to Friday marks her first trip to Europe since she took office in July.

Several Hong Kong activists protested outside the hotel where the dinner was held, calling for the release of “prisoners of conscience”, referring to prominent activists such as Joshua Wong Chi-fung, one of the three former student leaders jailed last month.

Earlier on Wednesday, Lam met representatives from Britain’s art, design and education sector. She also visited the learning and development centre of MTR Crossrail in London to learn more about the corporation’s current and future projects in Britain and Europe.

Before the dinner, Lam and Hammond witnessed the signing of a fintech bridge agreement. Hong Kong Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury James Lau said the agreement was meant to encourage cooperation between the governments, regulators and businesses in Hong Kong and Britain.

Tony Cheung is reporting from London.