Former lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting did not break the law with his comments about a senior police officer’s role in the July 2019 Yuen Long mob attack, his lawyer told a court, saying Lam has no case to answer over charges of disclosing a probe by Hong Kong’s anti-graft body.

Lam Cheuk-ting. File Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

The democrat, 44, in April denied three counts of disclosing the identity of a person being investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), an offence under the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance.

Lam was accused of announcing at three press conferences between November 2019 and July 2020 that the anti-graft agency was investigating Superintendent Yau Nai-keung, in connection with the attack at Yuen Long MTR station on July 21, 2019.

Yau was assistant district commander (crime) in Yuen Long at the time of the attacks, in which more than 100 rod-wielding men wearing white shirts stormed an MTR station and attacked passengers, leaving 45 people injured – including journalists, protesters, commuters and Lam himself.

Police were criticised for responding slowly and allegedly turning a blind eye to the incident, with some officers seen leaving the scene or interacting with the white-clad men.

Photo: Screenshot.

Yau told reporters shortly after the incident – which was broadcast live on TV news and online – that a preliminary investigation he led found no suspects nor weapons at the scene. Yau was later promoted to the role of superintendent for New Territories North, with jurisdiction over the police unit investigating the incident.

The official account of the attack – a pivotal moment in months of anti-government protests – evolved over the course of a year. Authorities and Chinese state media eventually claimed it had been a “gang fight”, while pro-government conspiracy theorists accused Lam of instigating the conflict – despite the lack of any evidence.

He faces a separate charge of rioting in connection with the incident, for which several attackers have been jailed.

Section 30 of the Ordinance stipulates that disclosure of the identity of people investigated for offences under Part 2 of the Ordinance – such as bribery – is illegal.

Misconduct in public office

Defence counsel Erik Shum told the Eastern Magistrates’ Court on Thursday that Lam had only mentioned during his three press conferences that Yau was the subject of an investigation for alleged misconduct in public office, a common law offence not part of the Prevention of Corruption Ordinance.

It was therefore not an offence to disclose it, the lawyer said.

Protest regular Alexandra “Grandma” Wong appeared before the Eastern Magistrates Court on December 2, 2021. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

While Yau was indeed investigated for other offences under Part 2 of the Ordinance, which would be barred from disclosure, it was not possible for the public to know this nor to deduce it based on what Lam had said, Shum argued.

“Looking at the content of the three press conferences, nobody would know that Yau Nai-keung was investigated for offences under Part 2. The public only found out about these Part 2 offences when Lam was arrested,” Shum said.

“What is curious is that the defendant repeatedly avoided mentioning Yau’s [suspected] offences under Part 2, but it was disclosed by the ICAC,” he said. “What would then be the defendant’s crime?”

Shum said the court’s only consideration was thus to decide whether what Lam disclosed was bound by Section 30, adding that its scope should not be expanded.

At the end of proceedings on Thursday spectators shouted support for Lam. “Democracy will be victorious!” an elderly woman shouted. “Stay strong!” said another person. Lam responded by waving and nodding at them as he was led out of the dock.

He has been in custody since February for alleged national security offences related to an unofficial primary election in July 2020 – one of 47 democrats awaiting trial over the primary.

Eastern Magistrates Court. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

An ICAC principal investigator, Martin Lee King-man, testified on Wednesday that the agency had invited Lam to provide testimony on July 25, 2019, days after the attack, Stand News reported.

Lam was told that the agency had opened an investigation into Yau for suspected misconduct in public office or for bribery, Lee said, adding that Lam was reminded that such details should not be disclosed, pursuant to Section 30.

The defence said Lam at the time told the anti-graft officers that disclosing the offence of misconduct in public office was not barred under Section 30. Lee as well as two other ICAC officers who also gave evidence denied that Lam had said this.

The trial continues.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.