Hong Kong prosecutors played a key role in carrying out political prosecutions, an independent US government agency which monitors human rights in China has claimed. It called for additional sanctions to address what it described as an erosion of the city’s rule of law.
Hong Kong’s government hit back on Wednesday, claiming that the US “manifests its hegemonism by disseminating slanders and attempting to intimidate the prosecutors.”
In a staff research report released on Tuesday, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China named 15 Hong Kong prosecutors, saying their involvement in national security and protest-related cases was tantamount to playing a role in “expanding arbitrary detention.”
The commission said the Hong Kong government’s “hardline approach” to pro-democracy views and the increasing number of “political prisoners” sparked concerns over the rule of law in the city. It cited more than 10,500 arrests made in connection with the 2019 anti-extradition bill unrest, with close to 3,000 people prosecuted by the Department of Justice (DoJ) for national security and protest-related offences.
The situation in Hong Kong may require the US and the international community to take action, the agency said, such as imposing further sanctions authorised under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act and the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.
“If Hong Kong’s prosecutors are allowed to exercise the discretion given [to] them under the city’s Prosecution Code, the number of political prosecutions and arbitrary detentions could dramatically decrease…” the report read.
Calls for overseas government sanctions on Hong Kong and China are considered collusion with foreign forces, which is an offence under the sweeping security law. The legislation enacted on June 30, 2020 also outlaws secession, subversion and terrorist acts.
The Hong Kong government’s response called the report “despicable” and a “serious violation of the [the] fundamental principles of international law,” deeming it “gross interference.”
“The attempt of the United States Congressional-Executive Commission on China to repeat a lie numerous times as if it were a truth simply reflects its ill intent and amounts to nothing more than an indecent act,” a spokesperson said.
‘Special Duties’ prosecutors
The document named Director of Public Prosecution Maggie Yang, who was appointed to lead public prosecutions last August. The agency said Yang was the lead prosecutor in a high-profile national security case involving 47 pro-democracy figures, who stand accused of taking part in a conspiracy to commit subversion by organising and participating in an unofficial legislative primary election held in July 2020.
Last December, Yang rejected accusations of political prosecution and claimed in the 2020 Prosecutions Hong Kong report that the DoJ did not face pressure outside the department. She said cases the DoJ handled in 2020 were “increasingly controversial in nature” and their prosecutorial decisions were often met with “baseless and biased criticisms.”
The document also pointed to several senior prosecutors on the Special Duties team established in April 2020, around two months before the Beijing-imposed security law came into force. They included Anthony Chau and Ivan Cheung, who handled the first-ever security law trial that put activist Tong Ying-kit behind bars for nine years for terrorist activities and inciting secession.
Andy Lo, who took over the 47 democrats case from Yang; Laura Ng, who oversaw a sedition case involving two former Stand News editors; and William Siu who managed an unauthorised assembly case against 26 activists were all listed in the commission’s report.
Other prosecutors named in the report were Alice Chan, Crystal Chan, Cherry Chong, Derek Lai, Wilson Lam, Edward Lau, Vincent Lee, Karen Ng and Jennifer Tsui. They were said to have “handled political cases in varying degrees of involvement.”
HKFP has reached out to the DoJ for comment.
The Law Society of Hong Kong on Wednesday said Hong Kong has a “robust” criminal justice system that guaranteed prosecutorial and judicial independence. Both the society, and the Hong Kong government, said that the DoJ controls criminal prosecutions, free from any interference, in accordance with Article 63 of the Basic Law.
The US congressional commission said people who violate human rights or undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy may be subject to sanctions. It pointed to former secretary for justice Teresa Cheng, who was among 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials sanctioned by the US Treasury in August 2020.
The then-justice chief backed Beijing’s move to pass an anti-sanctions law in June last year, saying sanctions that were not approved by the United Nations Security Council were “unilateral coercive measures” that violated the international principle of non-intervention.
In May, the Hong Kong Bar Association, which represents barristers in the city, said lawyers – whether defending or prosecuting – should not face “illegitimate pressure.” The remark came after seven US Congress members wrote to President Joe Biden and urged him to widen sanctions to cover designated national security judges in Hong Kong, in order to “stop Hong Kong’s decline and protect US interests.”