Former Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting has been sentenced to four months in prison for disclosing the identity of a police superintendent who was under investigation by Hong Kong’s anti-corruption watchdog for his role in an attack in Yuen Long in 2019.

Magistrate Jacky Ip at the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts found the 44-year-old guilty on 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 denied all charges.

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

Ip handed down four months of jail time for each conviction to be served concurrently. Deducting time served and time in custody, Lam was granted bail as he awaits appeal against the conviction. He remains in custody.

Lam also faces a separate charge of rioting in connection with the incident, for which several attackers have been jailed. The former lawmaker is one of 47 democrats charged under the national security law in connection with running in a primary election for democrats in July 2020.

Lam, who was an ICAC investigator before becoming a lawmaker, talked about the training he received while at the agency as well as the Yuen Long MTR attack that occurred on July 21, 2019, during his trial in December.

On the day in question, more than 100 rod-wielding men wearing white shirts stormed the MTR station and attacked passengers, leaving 45 people injured – including journalists, protesters, commuters and Lam.

icac anti corruption
An ICAC branch in Jordan. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Lam was accused of announcing at three press conferences between November 2019 and July 2020 that the ICAC was looking into then district commander Yau Nai-keung, in connection with the Yuen Long incident. Yau was assistant district commander (crime) in Yuen Long at the time of the attacks.

When handing down his verdict, Ip said that key to his consideration had been that Lam was aware that Yau was the target of an ICAC investigation on two charges of bribery and of misconduct in public office, although Lam only disclosed the latter charge to the public.

Lam’s disclosure was suspected to have violated Section 30 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance, which bars the disclosure of the identity of people investigated for offences under Part 2 of the ordinance, such as bribery, prosecutors said in December.

However Lam’s defence counsel Erik Shum argued that Lam had only disclosed that Yau was the subject of an investigation for misconduct in public office, a common law offence not part of the Prevention of Corruption Ordinance, so the disclosure was not prohibited by the ordinance. And even if it was, what he disclosed would be of significant public interest, thus justifying the revelations, Shum said. 

The magistrate said Section 30 was legislated to prevent targets of corruption probes being alerted to the existence of an ongoing investigation against them, as they might seek to destroy evidence essential to the probe if they were aware that they were being targeted by the agency.

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Lam’s disclosure of only one of the two parts of the ICAC investigation meant that Yau would be alerted to the fact that he was being investigated by the agency, regardless of what charge it related to, and may be prompted to tamper with evidence to affect the investigation.

The two charges must also have had overlaps in evidence and were intertwined, and therefore impossible to be considered separately, Ip said.

Ip also rejected the argument that Lam’s disclosure was made in the public interest, saying that it had affected the investigation and therefore Lam had ultimately harmed public interest instead of acting in its favour.

‘A special place in my heart’

In his mitigation submission, Lam said that he moved to Tuen Mun at the age of five and often visited his grand parents in neighbouring Yuen Long as a child.

“Yuen Long held a special place in my heart,” he said.

Growing up, Lam’s parents warned him against causing trouble as people in the tight-knit community would easily recognise him for his exceptional height, Lam said. Abiding by rules and morals, he worked hard to get into university, later joining the ICAC.

Yuen Long
YUen Long. Photo: Wikicommons.

Lam said he was proud to serve in the agency at a time when its investigators worked hard to combat pervasive corruption in the city, which earned it deep respect from the public. But he decided to return to the Democratic Party in 2011, where he had worked before joining the ICAC.

“I was told that if I wanted a stable and comfortable life, I should remain at the ICAC. But if I wanted to serve the public in this tumultuous time, then I may walk the narrow path of politics,” Lam said.

Serving the people of Hong Kong was the “honour of my life,” Lam said, adding that he knew he had to step up during the Yuen Long incident, regardless of the dangers involved. He said he had no regrets over his role nor the judgements he faced.

The lawmaker concluded his submission by citing Happiest Man on Earth, a book by Australian author and Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku: “Life can be beautiful, if you make it beautiful.”

Dozens of people in the public gallery stood up and applauded Lam’s mitigation speech.

Slow to respond

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

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

Yau told reporters shortly after the incident – which was broadcast live on TV and online – that a preliminary investigation he led had 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. The authorities and Chinese state media eventually claimed it had been a “gang fight,” while pro-government figures accused Lam of instigating the conflict.

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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.