Four Hong Kong men who were sentenced to life in prison last year in the Philippines over alleged drug offenses on Thursday lost their bid for judicial review of the case, prompting their families to initiate plans for lodging an appeal with a higher court in Manila to get the convictions overturned.
The families of Leung Shu-fook, Lo Wing-fai, Kwok Kam-wah and Chan Kwok-tung will take the matter to the Court of Appeals in the Philippines after a judge in Manila yesterday dismissed judicial review applications and upheld the previous court ruling that pronounced the men guilty.
The families hope the appeals court will reconsider the convictions and quash the jail sentences on the four men, allowing them to return to Hong Kong.
The quartet were arrested after a raid on a fishing boat off Subic Bay in 2016 when Philippine police officers said about half a kilogram of methamphetamine, commonly known as Ice, was found in a backpack belonging to one of the men.
The Hongkongers were allegedly hired to go to the Philippines to drive the boat back to mainland China.
The men had denied wrongdoing and insisted that they had been framed in a false case.
Although their families had hoped that Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her administration will intervene and secure their release, the four were sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in the Philippines in December last year on the charge of drug possession.
A judicial review was filed to the court afterwards.
On Thursday, a Manila court announced that it was upholding the original ruling, which found the defendants guilty of possession of methamphetamine but cleared them on the charge of manufacturing illegal substances, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The judge said all the prosecution has to do in a drug possession case is prove that defendants hid illegal drugs without having to prove where the drugs were coming from.
It was the court that had to decide whether the witnesses were credible, according to the judge.
As for the review filed by the prosecution on the drug manufacture charge, the judge said the prosecution could only find a hydrogenator, refrigerator, rice cooker, and less than 500 grams of methamphetamine on the fishing boat.
The four of them were not seen manufacturing drugs on the fishing boat, so it could not be proven that the quartet made drugs on the fishing boat, nor prove that they made the drug, the judge said.
The defendants were, hence, acquitted of the drug manufacture charge.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who has been providing assistance to the four Hongkongers and their families, had earlier launched a crowdfunding campaign to help in the legal fight in the Philippines.
While more than HK$600,000 has been raised so far, it is estimated that the total legal cost, including that for their appeal, would amount to around HK$2 million.
In early January this year, Lam wrote to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to express her concern over the case, according to the Office of the Chief Executive.
Lam attaches importance to protecting Hong Kong people’s rights overseas, her office said, adding that the chief executive wrote the letter after looking into the case and taking into consideration the appeals of the families of the jailed men.
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