The acquittal of dozens of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters — often accompanied by withering court criticism of police — has triggered a backlash from Beijing loyalists demanding an overhaul of a judicial system long known for its independence.
Semi-autonomous Hong Kong owes much of its success as a financial hub to its transparent legal system.
Unlike authoritarian China’s judicial structure — where opaque courts are party-controlled and convictions all but guaranteed — Hong Kong’s is internationally respected.
As Beijing cracks down following last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests, judges are finding themselves in the crossfire of the territory’s festering political divide.
Much of that criticism comes from a pro-establishment bloc infuriated by acquittals or perceived light sentences for protesters.
Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po — two staunchly pro-Beijing newspapers based in Hong Kong — have led the charge, publishing articles calling for judicial reform and deriding “yellow judges” — the color associated with the democracy movement.
Prominent local pro-Beijing politicians have joined in, calling certain judges biased, and lobbying for the creation of a sentencing committee to impose harsher jail terms.
Last month, graffiti daubed in red paint appeared on a wall reading in Chinese: “Police arrested people, but the ‘dog judge’ released them.”
That message targeted former magistrate Stanley Ho (何俊堯), who had acquitted two people of assaulting police.
Ho slammed two testifying officers for “telling lies to cover lies,” and said that the force used against those they arrested was “completely unnecessary.”
North Point District Councilor Jocelyn Chau (仇栩欣), one of the two exonerated, remains furious about the trial and months spent on bail.
“The long wait, the pressure you face from family members and friends when you go through the trial, are unnecessary sufferings,” she said. “Yet, the officers who lied face no consequences.”
Testimony or evidence from police in at least 27 protest cases has been dismissed by magistrates as either unreliable, contradictory or not credible, and resulted in acquittal, according to an Agence France-Presse tally based on local media reports.
No officer has been disciplined for evidence given on the stand.
A police spokesperson said that any court complaint about an officer would be handled “in a fair and impartial manner.”
Of more than 10,000 people arrested at protests, about 2,300 cases have gone on to some form of judicial proceedings with 331 convictions, according to Hong Kong police statistics.
Charges have been withdrawn in another 42 cases, and 65 cases have ended in acquittal.
Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong-based lawyer and author of two books on the territory’s protest movements, said that the acquittals show the courts are doing their job.
“These cases show both the political pressure that prosecutors must be under to bring every case to court ... and the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary in continuing to throw these cases out,” he said.
“However, this will inevitably lead to more attacks on Hong Kong’s independent judiciary from Beijing and its supporters,” he added.
Pro-democracy supporters have also criticized some judgements and sentences, especially on social media, but no major opposition figure has called for overhauling the judiciary.
Last week, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) criticized “unjustified attacks” against judges, calling on people to respect court decisions “regardless of his or her political stance.”
The judiciary has also taken to publishing several trial transcripts and judgements by magistrates accused of favoring protesters in a bid to show how decisions were reached.
Still, many of those exonerated by trial feel angry about their ordeals.
Lee Sheung-chun, who was acquitted of assaulting police, spent nearly a year under a bail curfew with his passport confiscated.
“The past year was unhappy, worrisome and nerve-wracking,” the 32-year-old warehouse worker said.
CALIBRATED RESPONSE: The city-state has learned from its past experiences of dealing with COVID-19 variants to assess the situation and the risks, the transport minister said Singapore will strive to keep its borders open and stay connected to the rest of world even if a new variant of COVID-19 emerges, Singaporean Minister for Transport S. Iswaran said on Wednesday. The city-state has learned from its past experiences of dealing with COVID-19 variants, Iswaran said in an interview with Bloomberg News. When the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 hit, Singapore did not backtrack on its reopening plans, but rather decided to wait and see how things panned out, he said, adding that the response was different versus the Delta outbreak. “We’ve all learned to adapt,” Iswaran said on the sidelines
‘EATING UP SPRING’: Temperatures are 10oC to 15oC above the seasonal average and a city northwest of Madrid experienced its first ‘tropical’ May night on Friday Parts of Spain are experiencing their hottest May since records began, as a mass of hot, dry air blows in from Africa, bringing with it dusty skies and temperatures of more than 40°C. Spain’s state meteorological agency, Aemet, has warned of a weekend heat wave of an “extraordinary intensity,” with temperatures between 10°C and 15°C above the seasonal average and more akin to high summer than mid-May. “The early hours of 21 May have been extraordinarily hot for the time of year across a good part of the center and south of the peninsula,” Aemet said on Saturday. “In many places the
BUSINESS AS USUAL: Thousands of people were forcibly removed from their homes in the dead of night and all mentions of the incident were scrubbed from the Internet Thousands of COVID-19-negative Beijing residents were forcibly relocated to quarantine hotels overnight due to a handful of infections, as the Chinese capital begins to take more extreme control measures resembling virus-hit Shanghai. Beijing has been battling its worst outbreak since the COVID-19 pandemic started. The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 has infected more than 1,300 since late last month, leading city restaurants, schools and tourist attractions to be closed indefinitely. China’s strategy to achieve zero COVID-19 cases includes strict border closures, lengthy quarantines, mass testing and rapid, targeted lockdowns. More than 13,000 residents of the locked-down Nanxinyuan residential compound in southeast Beijing were
‘I’M STUNNED’: The disease is not known to be sexually transmitted, but a large outbreak might reveal previously unknown transmission routes, a virologist said Scientists who have monitored numerous outbreaks of monkeypox in Africa say they are baffled by the disease’s recent spread in Europe and North America. Cases of the smallpox-related disease have previously been seen only among people with links to central and West Africa. However, in the past week, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the US, Sweden, Canada all reported infections, mostly in young men who had not previously traveled to Africa. There are about 80 confirmed cases worldwide and 50 more suspected ones, the WHO said. France, Germany, Belgium and Australia reported their first cases on Friday. “I’m stunned by this. Every day I