Two political parties have called on authorities to defend judicial independence and condemned suspected threats against the nine jurors in a high-profile prosecution over the 2016 Mong Kok unrest.
“The Civic Party is highly concerned about the incident. We urge the judiciary and the Department of Justice to follow up on the matter and defend judicial independence,” the pro-democracy Civic Party said in a statement last Friday.
The pro-Beijing New People’s Party said the “threat” had dealt a serious blow to Hong Kong’s justice system and the spirit of the rule of law. Both parties condemned the incident.
The remarks came after the judiciary’s complaints office received an email last Friday with a photo showing the faces of four jurors inside the courtroom during the trial of localist Edward Leung and four others.
Although photo-taking is prohibited inside the courts, Judge Anthea Pang, who presided over the case, did not enquire into two incidents that emerged during the trial of Mandarin-speaking men allegedly taking photos inside the courtroom.
The first incident took place in February, when a man claiming to be a mainland tourist was found taking photos inside the courtroom and uploading them onto social media. Judge Pang said at the time that the man had deleted the relevant items and reassured the jury that anyone who publishes the photos will be prosecuted.
Less than two weeks later, another Mandarin-speaking man was accused of taking photos of Leung during the trial. But the judge said the incident might be a misunderstanding and jurors had no need to be concerned. Police did not take action at the time, citing lack of evidence.
But last Friday, an unidentified person sent an email containing a photo of the jurors to the judiciary and wrote: “there are many more.”
In response, Judge Pang asked the prosecution to contact police to arrange juror protection and proposed setting up a hotline for jurors to seek police assistance. The judiciary reported the case to the police.
The Civic Party said that the men’s conduct may constitute pressuring the jury and contempt of court, which could result in the trial being conducted behind closed doors or the jury being dismissed.
“Any conduct that may affect the court’s decision-making or a fair trial is illegal and completely unacceptable,” it said.
Lawmaker and lawyer Eunice Yung of the New People’s Party said: “The person who took photos inside the courtroom and threatened the jurors can be understood as directly challenging Hong Kong’s legal system… I express the strongest condemnation towards those involved.”
Hong Kong Island Regional Commander Tommy Yu Tat-chung said last Saturday that the force was following up on the incident. He said ignorance of the law was not an excuse, and added that the courts had put up signs telling people not to take photos inside the courthouses.
On the same day that the judiciary received the email, the nine-person jury unanimously found Leung guilty of one count of rioting but acquitted him of inciting a riot. They could not reach a majority verdict over another rioting charge.
The only other guilty verdict the jurors returned was a rioting charge against Leung’s co-accused Lo Kin-man. They either cleared or could not reach a majority verdict for the rest of the charges.
The mitigation hearing for Leung and Lo took place on Monday.