Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen has asked Hongkongers not to politicise prosecution and other decisions made by his department.

“We ask the public not to see our work – whether civil or criminal cases – through a political lens,” Yuen said at a special meeting of the legislature’s Finance Committee on Monday.

Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung
Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung. File Photo: GovHK.

Yuen was responding to Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, who said the Department of Justice under Yuen’s leadership created a strong public perception that “it is being used as a political tool.”

“You keep saying that the justice department is apolitical and neutral – you shouldn’t need to say it because everyone in the department is supposed to adhere to the principle,” Kwok said.

The lawmaker cited recent prosecutions against figures involved in the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests and the 2016 Mong Kok unrest. He said the timing and the charges of some of the prosecutions provided a reasonable basis for casting doubt on the department’s neutrality.

In response, the justice secretary said Kwok “regrettably” politicised the decisions of the justice department, despite Yuen’s previous appeal to the public not to do so.

benny tai
Benny Tai (centre) and other Occupy leaders will soon be tried for their role in the 79-day demonstrations. File Photo: Cloud.

“Everyone knows that figures from every political party have faced criminal charges over the past few years,” he added.

‘Apology not necessary’

Kwok also accused Yuen of failing to defend the rule of law during incidents such as the disqualification of lawmakers from the legislature. He asked Yuen if he would make a public apology for allegedly contributing to the reputational damage suffered by the justice department under his watch.

Yuen replied that he did not see any reason to apologise to the public, because there is no evidence that Hong Kong’s reputation in terms of the rule of law had been damaged.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Holden Chow said in defence of the Department of Justice that its action against figures involved in the “illegal Occupy movement” was appropriate.

After the meeting, reporters asked Yuen to confirm a rumour that he may not remain in the government for a second term because of health concerns. He declined to comment, saying that he wanted to give Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam space to make appointment decisions.

SMALL hong kong free press hkfp logo

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.