Hong Kong authorities have slammed US politicians’ call for sanctions on government prosecutors presiding over court cases related to politics, condemning the move as an “unreasonable bullying act.”

White House Washington DC USA
The White House in Washington, D.C. Photo: Frank Camp, via Flickr.

“Our prosecutors act strictly in accordance with a longstanding international practice that the decision to prosecute will only take into consideration the admissible evidence to justify instituting proceedings and the applicable law,” a government spokesperson said in a Thursday statement read.

The statement added that court cases will “never be handled differently owing to the political beliefs or background of the person involved.”

The condemnation comes a day after the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CEC) wrote a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to impose sanctions on “those engaged in political prosecutions in Hong Kong.”

Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden. Photo: The White House, via Flickr.

In the letter, US lawmakers said the “negative effects of political prosecutions” three years after the unrest was “evident.” The lawmakers cited the disbanding of newsrooms and civil society organisations; an ongoing trial in which speech therapists were charged with conspiring to publish seditious publications over children’s books; and a six-year jail sentence for a man who chanted protest slogans.

“Hong Kong government prosecutors are complicit in undermining the city’s once robust rule of law,” the lawmakers wrote.

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.

China Hong Kong flag Central Government Offices
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“The US’s arbitrary and unreasonable bullying act has demonstrated disrespect for the rule of law, seriously violated international norms and grossly interfered in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs at large,” the government statement read.

Set up in 2000, the CECC monitors China’s compliance with international human rights standards.

‘Growing number of political prisoners’

The letter to Biden comes about a week after the CECC published a research report naming 15 prosecutors, saying their involvement in national security and protest-related cases was tantamount to playing a role in “expanding arbitrary detention.”

Among the list was Director of Public Prosecution Maggie Yang, the lead prosecutor in the 47 democrats case that has seen scores of ex-lawmakers and activists detained for over a year over their participation in a pro-democracy primary election.

Department of Justice
Department of Justice. Photo: GovHK.

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.

“The Hong Kong government’s hardline approach to dissent and pro-democracy views, and the growing number of political prisoners, raises serious concerns about the erosion of the rule of law in the city,” the research report read.

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.