A former pro-democracy lawmaker was convicted of contempt under the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance on Tuesday by a Hong Kong magistrate following a Court of Final Appeal decision and a retrial.
Former chairperson of the League of Social Democrats “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung was found guilty after snatching a folder from then-under secretary for development Eric Ma’s desk during a Legislative Council (LegCo) session in 2016. He stood before Principal Magistrate Ada Yim at the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts, who sentenced him to 14 days in prison for the offence.
The magistrate said that Leung intended to disrupt the order of the meeting, and whether Leung had scared officials, or whether the documents snatched were confidential, were not key to the case.
Yim said that Leung ignored the orders from the chairperson of the panel for him to return the folder and return to his seat. The magistrate also said that the panel chair’s demands were “reasonable and decisive.”
The magistrate also cited the decision handed down by the Court of Final Appeal last September. While the top court “previously acknowledged that freedom of expression embraces, as one of its dimensions, the manner in which an individual wishes to express their views and is therefore not limited to spoken or written words,” Yim said Leung’s action should not be seen as “falling within the protection of free speech and debate.”
“Accepting the appellant’s broad argument in the present case that, merely because he was present at, and had been participating in, a committee meeting of LegCo, he had absolute immunity for his actions… even if they amounted to a disruption… would be to extend the privilege of free speech and debate beyond the purpose for which it is granted,” said Yim, reading the Court of Final Appeal’s judgement.
After his conviction, Leung dismissed senior counsel and former lawmaker Margaret Ng as his legal representative and gave his own mitigation statement.
“This is not a usual statement for you to give me a lighter sentence after thinking that I admit to any mistake, I hope to explain the reason behind what I did,” said Leung.
The former lawmaker said that officials, including Ma, “used various reasons to refuse giving records that the Legislative Councillors requested in the meeting,” and that he thought he “should not let these sort of officials evade accountability.”
Leung said that his action was “a type of protest,” as officials had an attitude of contempt towards lawmakers’ monitoring.” He said that his aim was not to disrupt the meeting.
The magistrate interrupted Leung as the lawmaker was making his statement, asking him not to deviate from the purpose of mitigation. Leung said that he needed to explain his criminal record from 1997.
“1997 is too far, pull in closer to 2016,” said Yim.
The magistrate reduced Leung’s sentence by seven days from 21 days, citing his tenure as a legislative councillor, as well as his diagnosis of coronary heart disease.
After the court session ended, Leung shouted “shame to political prosecution, Hong Kong people keep it up” as he left the dock.
‘No shame in his heart’
The former legislative councillor, who turned 66 last Sunday, is currently serving a 23-month prison term over protest-related charges. Tuesday’s 14-day sentence is to be served consecutively.
Leung is also pending trial over a national security law charge relating to his participation in a primary election for a postponed LegCo election.
Before the court session began, Chan Po-ying, the chairperson of the League of Social Democrats and Leung’s wife, demonstrated outside the courthouse.
Chan said that Leung “had no shame in his heart, no shame facing his voters, and no shame facing citizens.”
She held up a banner which read: “My heart is at peace as I have done nothing shameful, my spirit is strong even in times of difficulty,” and “Where is the crime in a lawmaker asking questions, what should be the punishment for an official’s prevarication.”
Court of Final Appeal decision
Leung was initially acquitted of the charge by a magistrate, but the Department of Justice later filed an appeal. The case eventually reached Hong Kong’s top court.
Last September, the Court of Final Appeal ruled that the former lawmaker’s behaviour was not protected speech, and – while the ordinance was designed to protect freedom of speech and debate in the legislature – it was also “designed to create a secure and dignified environment” in LegCo.
The top court judgement also ruled that “it is for the courts to determine the scope of the legislature’s privilege.”
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