An annual report published by the Department of Justice (DoJ) about the prosecutions it brought throughout the year has made no mention its work on national security cases. It omitted all mention of a landmark appeal the government won at the highest court which raised the threshold for granting bail to defendants charged under the security law.

Department of Justice. Photo: GovHK.

The report also denied that the DoJ had engaged in “political prosecutions.” In politically sensitive cases, Director of Public Prosecutions Maggie Yang wrote that, “prosecutorial decisions were often subject to baseless and biased criticisms from different political spectrum of the society.”

“Most regrettably, there were accusations of ‘political prosecution,’ or suggestion that a particular prosecution was instituted because of interference or pressure from [a] party outside the Department,” she added.

Although the report made no mention of the department’s national security work, the report included a chapter on its newly established Special Duties team. All national security cases have, thus far, been prosecuted by special duties prosecutors.

Martin Lee leaving the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on April 16, 2021. File Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Under the Prosecutions Division, the Special Duties team was set up in mid-April last year, three months before the national security law’s enactment that June.

The team has been tasked with “public disorder” cases related to protests since June 2019. It is comprised of eight public prosecutors and two senior public prosecutors, the report said. It is led by two directorate grade officers – one for Special Duties, and one for Public Order Events and Cybercrime.

‘Special duties’

All examples of successful prosecutions brought by the team cited in the DoJ report were related to protests that occurred after June 2019, when the city was rocked by months of demonstrations and sometimes violent clashes between protesters and police in defiance of a now-axed bill that would have allowed extradition of suspects to mainland China.

Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Andy Lo of the special duties team was tasked with charging Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai and the newspaper’s top editors with conspiracy to collude with foreign forces. He also led the prosecution of 47 democrats for alleged conspiracy of subversion, in connection with the pro-democracy bloc’s primary election last July.

Director of Public Prosecutions Maggie Yang. Photo: GovHK.

According to the report, examples of the Special Duties team’s work included charges made under various Hong Kong legislation, with the 2019 protests as a common theme.

Among cases cited by the report were the prosecution of seven veteran democrats including Lai and Martin Lee over a peaceful but unauthorised demonstration on August 18, 2019. It also referred to the case of an immigration employee who improperly access the personal data of police officers and government officials before sending it to a Telegram messaging channel.

Jimmy Lai. File photo: Studio Incendo.

The report made no mention of a Court of Final Appeal judgement issued in early February, which upheld a government appeal against granting bail to Lai of Apple Daily. The ruling led to broad implications by affirming that there would be no presumption of bail for defendants in national security cases, breaking from the common law convention.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

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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.