HONG KONG – They were arrested during the most violent days in Hong Kong last year, with protesters throwing grenades at major government offices and setting them on fire outside police headquarters. But last month, a judge quickly dismissed the lawyers’ case against them.
In his ruling, District Judge Sham Xiu-man said police officers had provided incredible evidence that they had gone against the training by using sticks to subdue an opponent. He found all eight defendants not guilty and asked police to do their job when he used a loudspeaker.
next day, A Chinese government-owned newspaper in Hong Kong splashed a photo of a judge, Wearing his court wig and blouse, with pictures of protesters and burning barriers on its front page. “Strange opinion presented by the court,” the title read. The judge, it continued, said the protesters were “really unjust.”
As the Chinese Communist Party extends its hold on Hong Kong, pro-Beijing forces are increasingly targeting the city’s independent judiciary, making it the backbone of this global center for trade and capital.
State newspapers have been vocal for months against the “yellow judges” who are considered soft on protesters. (Yellow is a symbol of the anti-government movement.) Party officials have called for the courts to be reorganized to restrict the autonomy of judges. The city leadership has been more influential in selecting judges.
“It would be naive for anyone to think that they would leave the judiciary alone. Why are they?” Said Dennis Kwok, who represented Hong Kong’s legal department in the local legislature. Until he is removed from office this month. “They want to get their hands on everything.”
Distant National Security Act Beijing has passed this summer, giving the state more power over the Hong Kong judiciary. China’s legislature in November bypassed local courts to force the expulsion of four legislators, and some lawyers and jurists have used new powers of concern that may turn against judges.
Hong Kong Department of Justice, With its British-born, 170-year-old costumes, wicks and freedom, Is at the center of the existential struggle over the future of the region.
Hong Kong’s courts firmly separate the city from the mainland of China, which has an opaque legal system controlled by the Communist Party. The city’s basic legal framework has helped attract multinational corporations, bringing in a flood of money that has made Hong Kong one of the world’s leading cities.
The integrity of the judiciary is strictly protected in Hong Kong. The protests, which engulfed the city last year, began with a plan that many thought would undermine local courts by handing them over to mainland China.
In addition to imposing the National Security Act, Communist Party officials and state newspapers in the city are pushing for more control. In a follow-up series, the newspaper Ta Kung Pao, owned by the Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, demanded that the judges be patriotic. It called for a panel to determine the length of sentences, an external panel to handle complaints about judges and more scrutiny of the judicial selection process.
“Beijing understands that this is an area that people are very sensitive to and that the international community cares about,” said Eric Cheung, a legal scholar at the University of Hong Kong. “Beijing does not want to see justice interfered with, but it is very clear that some Beijing officials are not happy with some of the decisions our judges make.”
Even before the demonstrations and the security law, there was significant judicial oversight in Beijing. When China reclaimed Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, the final authority to interpret its laws went to Beijing.
The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, has the power to interpret Hong Kong’s local constitutional law. Many of its verdicts have gone against the city’s pro-democracy camp. Description of the committee for swearing in in 2016 Paved the way for the removal of six pro-democracy legislators They protested at the inauguration ceremonies.
The Security Act further restricts the city’s courts. This allows certain events, such as foreign forces or immediate threats, to be investigated on the mainland. Under the law, Hong Kong CEO Gary Lam will appoint judges to hear national security allegations.
Hong Kong ‘s Department of Justice recently put pressure beyond the law, asking that a judge authorized to hear national security matters handle the case of Desat Tuk-ci, an activist treasonous and unrecognized by the legislature. Those allegations do not fall under the Security Act.
Britain is considering whether to ban its judges from serving in Hong Kong. Foreign judges play temporary roles in the final appellate court so the city can maintain relations with common law states.
Both pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps have erred in the courts in counter-cases – perhaps indicating that the judiciary is an impartial institution, with differing views among judges.
A High Court judge has been criticized by pro-Beijing people for ruling this month He said the riot police did not have adequate identities and the mechanisms for dealing with complaints of police abuse should be improved. The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association has filed a lawsuit against police for handling journalists during protests.
Some judges were intimidated by the opposition for handing down harsh sentences to protesters or for showing sympathy to people who attacked protesters. After a district judge in the April ruling likened the protest movement to terrorism, Chief Justice of the Final Court of Appeal Jeffrey Ma Forbade him From future cases related to the political uprising.
Criticism of judges from both sides has grown frequently this year, with Judge Ma issuing a lengthy defense of the independence of the judiciary.
“It is wrong to make serious allegations of bias or violation of fundamental principles only as a result of a case against the will of an individual.” He wrote in September. “The judiciary is not above criticism in any way, but any criticism should be made firmly and properly. In particular, there should be no politicization of the judiciary and its functions.”
So far, the counter-lawsuits filed do not indicate that the courts are leaning strongly to one side or the other.
Of the 10,148 people arrested in the protests, 2,325 have been prosecuted for crimes such as rioting, illegal assembly or assault. As of October, 372 people had been convicted and 77 had been acquitted, according to Hong Kong police records.
The riot, in particular, is a serious accusation to prove. Four convicts, one convicted and 12 acquitted, in protest-related riot cases filed in late October. According to an analysis in the local online publication Stand News.
As protests heated up last year, police used increasingly aggressive tactics, charging crowds and catching strokers. But in court, Officers struggled to explain Why defendants were targeted and must provide evidence of the wrong they did.
Judge Sham wrote in his ruling last month that police may have reacted angrily when he arrested social worker Jackie Chen, who was accused of rioting. Ms Sen had a small loudspeaker during the protest, urging police to allow people to leave quietly.
“Someone stood up and reminded them to act according to the law,” Judge Sham wrote. “It may feel like some police officers are unhappy, but if that person is accused of rioting, I can’t see how that person will turn into a rioter.”
The government appeals to those acquitted in that case.
Ms Sen said she was frustrated by the process and said the government’s indefinite continuation of such cases would undermine the legal system. But he added that his initial success had given him some comfort.
“Everyone still has a ray of hope: you face a normal judge in court and I hope you will not be found guilty,” he said. “But even if you are not found guilty, you can expect that decision to be appealed. You believe the appeal will not succeed. “
Tiffany May contributed to the reporting.