Jailing of Hong Kong Occupy trio a ‘serious threat’ to city’s rule of law, top foreign lawyers say in joint letter
The 12 say city’s judiciary risks being a ‘charade at the beck and call of the Communist Party’
A group of 12 senior foreign lawyers issued a joint letter on Monday to express concern over the imprisonment of three political activists in Hong Kong, calling the jailing “a serious threat” to the city’s rule of law and the “one country, two systems” principle.
They also said that under a white paper released by Beijing in 2014, Hong Kong’s independent judiciary “risks becoming a charade, at the beck and call of the Chinese Communist Party”.
In August, former student leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang were jailed for six to eights months for storming the government headquarters compound at Tamar during an illegal protest that triggered the 79-day Occupy sit-ins of 2014.
Wong and Law had been given community service orders, and Chow a suspended jail sentence, for unlawful assembly. But they were eventually put behind bars after the Department of Justice took the trio back to an appeal court demanding stronger punishment.
The 12 senior foreign lawyers who signed the letter included Charles Falconer – a former British lord chancellor – and five other queen’s counsels. American lawyer Jared Genser, who represented the late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi when she was under house arrest, was also among the signatories.
They said they regarded the imprisonment of the trio as “a serious threat to the rule of law and a breach of the principle of ‘double jeopardy’ in Hong Kong – in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)”.
Under the double jeopardy principle, a person who has been acquitted or convicted will be spared any further prosecution for the same offence, since certainty and closure has been granted to the accused.
“The law under which they were charged, the Public Order Ordinance, has been criticised by the United Nations for ‘[facilitating] excessive restrictions’ to basic rights, and is incompatible with the ICCPR,” the lawyers wrote.
In June 2014, Beijing’s State Council released a white paper declaring the country had “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong and that judges should be “administrators” and patriots.
Legal professionals in the city showed their displeasure by protesting against the paper.
Referring to the same paper, the 12 foreign lawyers said: “The independence of the judiciary, a pillar of Hong Kong, risks becoming a charade, at the beck and call of the Chinese Communist Party. Hong Kong’s rule of law and basic freedoms, at the heart of the principle of ‘one country, two systems’, now face grave threats.”
A judiciary spokeswoman said it would not comment on the letter.
In a lengthy response, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice wrote: “We regret that the contents of the joint letter display either a misunderstanding or a lack of understanding of the case in question and the legal system [in the city].
“The joint letter’s comments on [Hong Kong’s] judicial independence are totally unjustified … The judiciary remains truly independent and has displayed very high quality in its discharge of professional duties.”
In a forum for secondary school pupils organised by the Law Society on Sunday, Hong Kong justice minister Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung was asked if Beijing was behind the jailings of Wong, Law and Chow.
“Categorically and very clearly, I can tell you that the [central government] was absolutely not involved in this incident,” Yuen said.
Monday’s letter from the lawyers was released days after British human rights campaigner Benedict Rogers was barred from entering Hong Kong, without explanation.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Thursday did not reveal why Rogers was denied entry, but she said: “Some commentators and politicians in Britain have been very unfair to Hong Kong ... They have attacked our legal system, and said that there is political interference in judges’ decisions.”
In August, the Bar Association and the Law Society, the city’s two biggest groups of legal professionals, issued a rare joint statement and hit out at both local and mainland media for suggesting there were political motives behind the prison terms of the Occupy trio.
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.