Hong Kong’s second-highest official reportedly signed off on an order allowing prosecutors not to disclose documents relating to police operations in court. The gag order, imposed during a case against three protesters during a 2013 protest, fuelled concerns that the protesters’ right to a fair trial was affected.
A report by Ming Pao revealed that the court accepted a public interest immunity certificate signed off by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s second-in-command.
Public Interest Immunity Certificates are used in exceptional circumstances to prevent confidential or sensitive information from being disclosed in court. The certificate allowed prosecution lawyers not to disclose documents related to police operations during the annual July 1 pro-democracy rally in 2013. A former director of public prosecutions told the paper that such orders are rare and only granted in exceptional circumstances.
The three protesters were each sentenced to 80 hours of community service at Eastern Magistrates’ Court at the end of March this year after being charged with illegal assembly during the rally.
Ming Pao reported that, during the hearing, defence lawyers had asked the court to disclose documents related to a Causeway Bay police cordon. However, prosecution lawyers handed the judge the public interest immunity certificate, which was accepted by the court.
The documents in question were said to show police deployments on that day, as well as contingency plans, agreements, orders, logistic arrangements and communications. The order said the public disclosure of this information would affect the public interest and the ability of police officers to carry out their duties.
Lawyers representing the three protesters confirmed they would appeal and a hearing is due to take place on Thursday, July 23.
Ming Pao said that the Department of Justice declined to comment as the judicial process is still ongoing. However, they said that disclosure of information concerning informants and undercover officers could affect public safety, adding that publishing such materials may be against the wider public interest.