Thousands of people from the legal community staged a march in Hong Kong on Wednesday calling for an end to political prosecutions and for an independent inquiry to be set up on the recent incidents in the city.
Voicing concern over the spate of arrests of anti-government demonstrators in Hong Kong over the past two months, legal professionals slammed what they described as politically motivated prosecutions, and also raised questions over the impartiality of the administration and the police.
Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, a lawmaker representing the legal sector, pointed out that authorities moved quickly in arresting several protesters and charging them with various offenses, but have taken no action against white-clad thugs who beat up anti-government activists and others in Yuen Long on July 21.
Political considerations, rather than the rule of law principle, appear to be in play here, he said.
Given the situation, lawyers will need to come forward in greater numbers to assist the arrested youth, said Kwok, who organized Wednesday’s silent march and assembly along with all members of the legal subsector of the Election Committee.
At 12:30 pm, participants gathered outside the Court of Final Appeal building on Jackson Road in Central for the march, which was the second one staged by lawyers and other legal professionals in Hong Kong amid the extradition bill saga, following a previous silent march held on June 6.
They all wore black to express their disapproval of the Justice Department’s alleged political prosecutions. Some of the rally participants wore gear like helmets and face masks as they sought to convey a message to the police that they should restrain themselves when enforcing the law.
The organizers said more than 3,000 people joined the march, making it the biggest event of its kind from the sector since the 1997 handover.
The police, however, put the turnout at 1,000.
On their way to the Justice Department’s headquarters on Lower Albert Road, the marchers, who included several senior counsels, chanted slogans that included “Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, come out to have a dialogue with us” and “No to political prosecutions”.
They arrived at the building and waited for Cheng, the justice secretary. But Cheng didn’t show up.
Kwok spoke about unfair treatment of the arrested, pointing out that lawyers had to wait two to three hours before they were allowed to see the detainees.
He also noted that lawyers were notified just one-and-a-half hours before cases of their clients were mentioned at court.
The Civic Party lawmaker questioned the police’s move to detain the arrested protesters in different police stations, suggesting that the police action was aimed at making things more difficult for lawyers to offer assistance.
Barrister Stephen Char Shik-ngor said most Hong Kong citizens agree on the need for an independent commission of inquiry into the recent incidents, and that the government has a responsibility to solve the current problems and de-escalate the situation.
Char, who had once been a chief ICAC investigator, said Justice Secretary Cheng should stay out of the prosecutorial work against the arrested protesters, as she is believed to have played a key role in pushing the now-suspended extradition bill.
The prosecutorial work should be left to an independent task force formed by the Department of Justice (DoJ), the lawyer said.
In response to the legal sector’s march, a DoJ spokesman stressed in a statement on Wednesday that in “making decisions of whether or not to prosecute in each case, the DoJ must make an objective and professional assessment of the available evidence and applicable law, and act in accordance with the Prosecution Code.”
The DoJ will handle all cases in the same manner and there will be no differentiation based on the political beliefs or background of the persons involved, the spokesman said.
“Any person suspected of breaking the law, including when acts of violence or vandalism are involved, the decision on prosecution and related charges will be made in accordance with the above principles and there is no political consideration,” the spokesman said.
“The Secretary for Justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the prosecution team have all along been discharging their prosecutorial duties fairly and without prejudice or favor so as to safeguard criminal justice, the spokesman added.
In a separate statement released earlier on the day, the DoJ dismissed a media report that claimed that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has proposed to establish an “independent prosecution committee”.
The report is “totally unfounded”, the department said, adding that it is “deeply disappointed” about such rumors.
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