Thousands of legal sector professionals staged their second “black clothes” march in two months urging for an end to political prosecutions, for the Department of Justice to retain its independence and for the government to form an independent commission of inquiry to investigate events that occurred during two months of anti-extradition bill protests.
The lawyers gathered at Central’s Court of Final Appeal before marching in silence to Department of Justice’s office nearby on Wednesday from around 12:45pm. Legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok said 3,000 joined.
Around 3,000 people from Hong Kong’s legal sector first marched on June 6 against the controversial extradition bill.
Since then, protests calling for the withdrawal of the extradition bill have adopted calls for democratic development and an independent investigation into alleged instances of police brutality.
Last week, 44 protesters were charged with rioting – which carries a maximum jail sentence of 10 years – shortly after they were arrested. Some of those charged said that they did not participate in the protest in Sheung Wan on July 28 but were helping to provide first aid to others.
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng reportedly verbally authorised the police to charge protesters with rioting, instead of in writing, in order to speed up prosecution. An anonymous letter signed by prosecutors criticised Cheng for being politically biased.
Audrey Eu, a senior counsel and a co-founder of the Civic Party, said Cheng had frequently departed from usual procedures and guidelines when dealing with important matters.
“She really doesn’t care about due process and well-established practice,” she said. “That signals a very serious decline in the rule of law.”
She said Cheng’s decision to hastily charge large number of protesters with rioting was evidence of selective prosecution.
“There is clear and overwhelming evidence that there was the triad, or at least thugs, attacks on civilians in Yuen Long. That happened on July 21, even earlier than the incident in which people were charged with rioting offences,” she said.
“If she is fast-tracking the charge of rioting, you would expect her to have fast-tracked also the charges of these attacks in Yuen Long on July 21. The very fact that she failed to do so cannot give you any other conclusion than that there is bias and there is political motive.”
She said the government could set up an extensive investigation into events that have occurred since June, which not only includes the conduct of the government and the police, but also allegations of interference from “foreign forces” and paid protesters.
Mr Chan, a solicitor who wore sunglasses and a gas mask to the march, said he did so because he inhaled tear gas for the first time on Monday during the city-wide protests.
“They were many cases of the police firing tear gas in highly populated residential areas, harming elderly people and children – that is very unacceptable to me,” he said.
He said an independent commission of inquiry could provide a credible answer to what has occurred since June: “We all want this answer,” he added.
Mr Lee, a trainee lawyer, said the Department of Justice appeared to be conducting selective prosecution and that the Secretary for Justice did not agree to meet with any lawyers marching outside her office.
“The government has failed to respond to our demands,” he said. “As lawyers, the least we can do is stand up and march.”