Carrie Lam appeals for Philippine president Duterte’s ‘personal attention’ in case of Hong Kong man serving 40-year jail sentence
Her letter calls on the president to push immigration authorities to find records believed to prove innocence of Tang Lung-wai
The city’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has called on Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte to urge immigration authorities to hasten their search for records that may support a Hong Kong man’s appeal against his 40-year jail sentence.
Tang Lung-wai, 47, has been languishing behind bars in the Philippines for 18 years. He entered the country as a tourist in June 2000 to meet a friend, but was arrested the next month for a drug offence.
It took 11 years for his case to make it through the legal system. He was convicted and sentenced but has maintained his innocence throughout.
Legislator Paul Tse Wai-chun, who is helping Tang and his family, said Hong Kong immigration records showed Tang was not in the Philippines when the offence he was convicted of took place.
Local police told the court they had been tailing Tang since early June 2000 in an anti-drug trafficking operation. But records suggested Tang only entered the country in mid-June that year.
Hong Kong immigration officials in 2006 gave the family Tang’s departure records from the city and these documents were given to his lawyer in the Philippines.
But the lawyer lost the document, Tse said. The law firm later shut down, and its staff could not be reached.
On July 16, the Philippines’ Supreme Court issued a notice asking Tang to submit documents to support his appeal within 30 days, or by this Wednesday.
But Lisa Tam Sin-man, a core member of the Tang Lung Wai Incident Concern Group formed by his friends and supporters, quoted Tang’s lawyer in the Philippines as saying the deadline should be early September, because Tang received the letter on August 5.
In her letter to Duterte on Monday, Lam wrote: “As the deadline is approaching, I wish to have the honour of drawing this matter to your personal attention for compassionate consideration in expediting the Philippine Bureau of Immigration’s processing of the … request.
“[Tang] had been detained for some 11 years since July 2000 before being convicted in October 2011 and sentenced to reclusión perpetua. His appeal lodged in 2013 was not heard for years until Tang learned of the rejection of his appeal on July 26, 2017,” the chief executive continued, referring to the man’s long jail sentence.
“I have no doubt, under your esteemed leadership, Tang would receive a fair and just trial in the upcoming supreme court proceedings.”
On Monday night, Lam’s office issued a statement saying the government “attaches great importance to assisting Hong Kong residents in distress” outside the city.
The office of the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry in Hong Kong was aware Lam had written to Duterte, the statement continued, and both it and the Chinese embassy in the Philippines were providing “practicable assistance” to Tang and his family.
The Philippine consulate in Hong Kong confirmed that it had received the letter from Lam, which it said had been passed to the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs, as had a letter from Hong Kong security minister John Lee Ka-chiu, who wrote to the Philippine immigration bureau chief last Friday, asking the official to help find and disclose Tang’s travel record to help his appeal.
“The same immediate attention was also given by the consulate vis-à-vis the letters of the Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee, and members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council to the Philippine Bureau of Immigration on Mr Tang’s case,” the Philippine consulate said in a statement.
“Relevant Philippine government officials, particularly those of the Foreign Affairs Department, have been informed of the intercessions of high-level Hong Kong government officials, and of the urgency of Mr Tang’s case appeal with the Supreme Court of the Philippines.”
The consulate added that it was ready to provide further assistance, while a spokesman for Duterte’s office could not be reached for comment.
A person with knowledge of Tang’s latest situation said the jailed man was “surprised” and “touched” by Lam’s gesture.
Tang had written to all three previous chief executives, Tung Chee-hwa, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Leung Chun-ying, but none of them had written to Philippine leaders. The person said Tang remained hopeful the court would still accept the documents, even if the Philippine government could not submit them before the deadline.
The Hong Kong Security Bureau said last week the immigration records were no longer available as they had been destroyed after the standard 10-year retention period.
Tang’s family said they had tried to contact the Philippine immigration authorities for help but received no response.
Duterte is known for his hardline approach to drug offenders. Since he took office two years ago, more than 12,000 drug suspects have reportedly been killed, according to Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organisation which monitors human rights globally. Philippine police put the number closer to 4,000.
Tang, a bartender, went to the Philippines in June 2000 to meet a friend, Cheung Tai-on. Police arrested Tang in mid-July the day before he was meant to return to Hong Kong. He claimed he was told to admit to drug offences, but refused.
According to Tang, he, Cheung and a third Hong Kong man, Goh Sek-hung, were then taken to a flat in a residential block.
Narcotics officers later searched the flat and found a plastic bag containing some 8kg of the drug Ice, a methamphetamine.
The trio were detained. It was not until 2011 that Tang and Cheung were sentenced, with each receiving a life sentence of 40 years. Goh was acquitted after police said they did not have enough evidence.
Cheung was said to have suffered a heart attack and he died in prison in 2016.