HONG KONG – He was arrested on one of the most violent days in Hong Kong last year, when protesters hurled firebombs at main government offices and set up a barricade outside police headquarters. But last month, a judge quickly concluded the prosecution case against him.
In his ruling, District Judge Sham Siu-man stated that the police officers had given unreliable testimony, and that they had gone against their training using a baton to subdue a guard. He pleaded not guilty to all eight defendants, with one only asking police to do their job when he used a loudspeaker to urge restraint.
next day, A Chinese government-owned newspaper in Hong Kong snapped a photo of the judge, Wearing her court wig and robes, with images of protesters and burning barriers on her front page. “Strange opinion issued by court,” read the title. The judge, it continued, says the protesters “actually did injustice to the people.”
As the Chinese Communist Party gained hold of Hong Kong, pro-Beijing forces are targeting the city’s independent judiciary, an institution that is the backbone of this global center for commerce and capital.
State newspapers have raided for months against “yellow judges” seen as lenient towards protesters. (The color yellow symbolizes the protest movement.) Party officials have called for an overhaul of the courts to curb the autonomy of judges. The city’s leadership has exercised greater influence over the selection of judges.
“It would be naive for anyone to leave the judiciary alone. Why would they? “Said Denis Kwok, who represented Hong Kong’s legal constituency in the local legislature He was removed from office this month. “They want to put their hands on everything.”
Far reaching national security law Beijing has passed this summer which gives the state even more authority over the Hong Kong judiciary. The Chinese legislature also forced local courts to remove four MPs in November, using new powers that said some lawyers and legal scholars might be concerned against the judges.
Hong Kong Judiciary, 170 years old tradition of British born, mugger, wig and freedom, Is at the center of an existential battle over the region’s future.
Hong Kong’s courts divide the city mainly from China, where the opaque legal system is under the control of the Communist Party. The underlying rule of city law has helped attract multinational corporations, causing a flood of money that has made Hong Kong one of the world’s leading cities.
The integrity of the judicial system has been fiercely defended in Hong Kong. The demonstrations in the city last year started on a resolution that saw many people potentially undermine local courts by allowing extradition to mainly China.
Apart from enforcing national security law, Communist Party officials and state newspapers in the city are still pushing for greater control. In a continuing series, the newspaper Ta Kung Pao, owned by the liaison office of the Chinese government in Hong Kong, has demanded that judges should be patriots. It has called for the setting up of an external panel to handle complaints about judges, a council to conduct more and more scrutiny about the judicial selection process.
Hong Kong University legal scholar Eric Cheung said, “Beijing understands that this is an area people will be very sensitive to and the international community will monitor it.” “Beijing cannot be seen as interfering with judicial independence, but I think it is clear that some officials in Beijing are not happy with some decisions made by our judges.”
Even before the protest and security legislation, Beijing had significant judicial oversight. When China withdrew Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, the final authority to explain its laws went to Beijing.
The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, has the power to interpret the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s local constitution. Many of its regimes have turned against the city’s pro-democracy camp. Oath committee swearing in 2016 Paved the way for the removal of six pro-democracy MPs Who protested during his swearing-in ceremony.
The security law has further weakened the city’s courts. This allows for some cases, such as those involving foreign forces or imminent threats to try to bring them to the mainland. Under the law, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam will nominate judges for trial on national security charges.
Hong Kong’s Justice Department recently pressed beyond the scope of the law to ask that a judge authorized to hear national security cases conduct the hearing of Tam-chi, a worker accused of treason and unauthorized assembly . Those charges are not covered under the Security Act.
Britain is considering whether to stop its judges from serving in Hong Kong. Foreign judges play a temporary role in the court of final appeals so that the city can maintain relations with countries with common law.
Both the pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps have found fault with the courts in protest cases – perhaps indicating that the judiciary remains an impartial institution, with a range of viewpoints among judges.
A High Court judge was criticized this month by pro-Beijing supporters The riot police did not identify enough and the mechanism needed to be improved to deal with complaints of police misconduct. The Hong Kong Journalists Association had filed a lawsuit to deal with the police of journalists during the protests.
Some judges have been lynched by the opposition for severely punishing protesters, or for expressing sympathy for those who attacked protesters. In an April ruling by a district judge comparing the protest movement to terrorism, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma of the Court of Appeals made the final appeal. Stopped him From future cases related to political upheaval.
Criticism from judges on both sides has grown steadily this year with Justice Ma long defending the independence of the judiciary.
“It is wrong to make serious allegations of bias or violation of fundamental principles only on a case by case basis, not on one’s side” He wrote in september. “The judiciary is not above criticism in any way, but any criticism must be made concretely and properly. In particular, the judiciary and its functions should not be politicized. “
Until now, the lawsuits that have been prosecuted do not imply that courts lean strongly to one side or the other.
Of the 10,148 people arrested in the protests, 2,325 have been tried for crimes such as rioting, unlawful assembly or assault. According to Hong Kong police records, by the end of October, 372 had been convicted and 77 were acquitted.
Riot, in particular, is a difficult charge to prove. As of the end of October, there were four guilty pleas, one conviction and 12 acquitted in cases of protest-related riots that went to trial. According to an analysis in Stand News, a local online publication.
As the demonstrations heated up last year, police used aggressive tactics, charged into the crowd and caught Stragler. But in court, The authorities have struggled to explain Why the defendants were targeted and to give evidence of their wrongdoing.
Judge Sham wrote in his ruling last month that the police must have been responding angrily when they arrested social worker Jackie Chen on charges of rioting. Ms. Chen organized a small loudspeaker during the protest and urged the police to let the people go peacefully.
Judge Sham wrote, “Someone stood up and reminded them to act according to the law.” “This may make some police officers feel unhappy, but if that person has been accused of rioting, I can’t see how that person would become a rioter.”
The government is appealing for the acquittal of the culprits in that case.
Ms. Chen says she is disappointed in the process and argues that the government’s lack of explicitly following such cases weakens the legal system. But he said that his initial victory gave him some solution.
“Everyone still has a ray of hope: that you face a general judge in court, and hope you are found not guilty,” she said. “But even if you are found not guilty, you can still expect to appeal that verdict.” Then you hope that the appeal will not succeed. “
Tiffany contributed reporting.