Top Beijing officials in Hong Kong have condemned threats made against a local judge after she sentenced a group of well-known pro-democracy figures in the city over a banned protest on China National Day in 2019.

The strong rebuke from the China Liaison Office and the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council (HKMAO) came after District Court judge Amanda Woodcock received threatening phone calls after the she handed out sentences of up to 18 months imprisonment to 10 democrats.

Judge Amanda Woodcock
Judge Amanda Woodcock. File Photo: Judiciary.

The HKMAO said that the threats were “a blatant challenge to Hong Kong’s judicial system, a brutal trampling of Hong Kong’s legal order,” and must not be tolerated.

“This type of vile behaviour not only violated Hong Kong’s ‘Crimes Ordinance’, but also violated the Hong Kong National Security Law, and must be severely punished,” The HKMAO’s statement read.

It went on to say that “the rule of law is the cornerstone to Hong Kong’s long term prosperity and stability,” adding that “judges are the guardians of Hong Kong’s rule of law.”

The liaison office said that the threats “have already allegedly breached the bottom line of the law,” and that the office “resolutely supports the SAR and the police’s decisive law enforcement…”

China Liaison Office
The China Liaison Office. File photo: Wikimedia Commons/Citizen News.

“We can see that the minority’s vile behaviour of threatening judges has already been strong condemned by Hong Kong society, voices supporting judges handle cases according to the law and the police strictly enforce the law are growing strong,” the liaison office’s statement read.

“This fully proves that threats won’t intimidate people, it will only arouse people’s strong will to defend the rule of law and protect the independence of the judiciary.”

Some critics described the sentences handed down by Woodcock last Friday as “too heavy,” after the judge said that said the case called for a “deterrent and punitive” sentence as “necessary in maintaining public order.”

Hong Kong protest coalition leader Figo Chan, former Democratic Party chairs Yeung Sum and Albert Ho, pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai were among those sentenced.

Sin Chung-kai Richard Tsoi
Sin Chung-kai (left) and Richard Tsoi (right) leave the Wan Chai Law Courts Building on May 28, 2021 after receiving suspended jail terms over a banned protest on China’s National Day in 2019. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Legal sector criticisms

Hong Kong law professor Johannes Chan told an RTHK radio show on Monday that a lot of people were wondering if the sentencing was too heavy or too long, but he also condemned the threats made to Woodcock.

“Even if we don’t agree with the judge’s sentencing, I think the rational way is to criticise it and question the reasoning, but we should not threaten the judge, this is the opposite of our society of the rule of law,” said Chan.

The Hong Kong Bar Association also condemned the threats in a statement issued on Saturday, saying that “judges must be held free from any interference in the performance of their judicial duties.”

“Any threat made with intent to frighten or to put pressure on a judicial officer to decide cases one way or another, is a serious assault on judicial independence,” the association said. “Such behaviour is an attack on the administration of justice and jeopardizes the rule of law.”

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.