A Hong Kong judge has been removed from dealing with protest-related case hearings after he expressed sympathy with a pro-government attacker and compared demonstrators to “terrorists.”
In his sentencing remarks, Judge Kwok Wai-kin said the defendant, Tony Hung, was a victim of citywide protests because they had affected his livelihood as a tour guide. The 50-year-old assailant stabbed three people near a pro-democracy message board in Tseung Kwan O last August, leaving one in a critical condition.
Kwok also noted that the social movement last year had left the defendant a dying man “stained with blood” and on his “last breath”: “Due to the circumstances, he emitted an uncontrollable howl and committed an abnormal act. It was not because he was imposing a political ideology onto the three victims or any other social movement participants.”
The judge has been criticised over the disproportionate length of his sentencing dedicated to commenting on the negative impacts of the protests, which began last June over a now-withdrawn extradition bill. The movement has since evolved into calls for democratic reform and an investigation into police behaviour, among other demands.
Kwok was appointed to handle another protest-related case on Monday afternoon but was replaced by Chief District Judge Justin Ko, according to Stand News. The case involved a 31-year-old taxi driver, Tsang Wai-lung, who was charged with arson after he was found in posession of petrol bombs.
In response to a question from Stand News about the replacement, the judiciary wrote: “The Chief District Judge is aware of recent disputes over the reason behind the sentencing of a case handled by Judge Kwok Wai-kin. The arrangement was hence made at this stage.”
Pro-democracy activist Ventus Lau, who previously called on the public to file complaints against Judge Kwok, wrote on Facebook that the decision was a good start: “Judge Kwok Wai-kin was temporarily removed from adjudicating protests cases. It is an indicator the our society’s active discussion and complaints against the judiciary is making a change.”
He added that aside from monitoring administrative bodies and the legislature, civil society should keep an eye on the judiciary.
Kwok was appointed a District Judge in 2012 and has heard a number of prominent protest-related cases including one involving nine defendants charged with rioting during the Mong Kok unrest in 2016. He also presided over a case related to an incident where protesters surrounded police headquarters last June.