Prosecutors have presented sufficient evidence to press on with a trial against former lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, who is accused of disclosing the identity of a police officer under investigation by the city’s anti-graft watchdog, a Hong Kong court has ruled. 

Magistrate Jacky Ip of the Eastern Magistrate Court announced on Monday morning that the prosecution had successfully established a prima facie case against Lam. 

Lam Cheuk-ting
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 began giving testimony during examination by the defence, recounting details of the Yuen Long MTR mob attacks that occurred on July 21, 2019. On the day in question, 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.

He 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 Yuen Long incident. Such disclosures are suspected to have violated Section 30 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance, prosecutors said. 

Yau was assistant district commander (crime) in Yuen Long at the time of the attacks.

See also: Explainer: From ‘violent attack’ to ‘gang fight’ – How the official account of the Yuen Long mob attack changed

Yau Nai-keung
File photo: Yau Nai-keung. Photo: Screenshot.

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.

The defence have argued that Lam’s disclosures were not banned by the Ordinance. And even if they were, what he disclosed would be of significant public interest that would justify the revelations, defence counsel Erik Shum said last week. 

Recounting the attack

During his testimony, Lam recounted that he was heading home in the evening following a day-long demonstration on Hong Kong Island against the China extradition bill that day, but decided to move towards Yuen Long while he was on the MTR train. Rumours and social media updates seen online indicated that a mob attack was likely to happen. 

He was sent a photo of a man whose back was covered in injuries following a baton attack, Lam said. He later learned that the man was reportedly the first victim of the attacks, which became a turning point in the 2019 Hong Kong protests. Lam said he immediately got in touch with a Police Public Relations Bureau officer surnamed Tang overseeing the Yuen Long district. 

“I told him how I strongly condemned that police did not make an effort to disperse the groups of white-clad people in Yuen Long even though they started gathering in the afternoon,” Lam told the judge. “I told him how I demanded that police disperse the crowd as soon as possible and said I was heading in to Yuen Long to monitor their dispersal operation.” The officer said in response that plain-clothes police officers were already on the scene monitoring developments. 

yuen long july 21 china extradition
Photo: Screenshot.

When he arrived at Yuen Long MTR station, Lam saw a woman holding her head near a broken baton and a pool of blood on the ground. With another group of people, he tried to escape from attackers by entering a stationary MTR carriage. “The white-shirts hit anyone they saw, whether they were male, female, old or young,” Lam said. “One assailant in white seemed to recognise me and used a wooden baton to attack me.”

Lam said he ended up with a fracture in his ring finger, 18 stitches on his lips and bruises to his forearm. 

Riot charge 

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

Superintendent Yau told reporters shortly after the incident – which was broadcast live on TV 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 figures accused Lam of instigating the conflict.

File photo: GovHK.

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

Shum, the defence counsel, told the court last week 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.

While Yau was indeed being 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 deduce it based on what Lam had said, Shum told the court. 

However, prosecutors argued that it would be an offence for a person with knowledge of an ICAC investigation to mention the name of the person being investigated even when it was not in conjunction with allegations under Part  2 of the ordinance. In response, the defence said that the anti-graft watchdog was using the case to expand the powers of the Ordinance without going through legislative amendments, according to Stand News. 

Lam 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 polls.

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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.