Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen reportedly insisted on reviewing the sentences for three pro-democracy activists, despite opposition from his top prosecutors.
The Court of Appeal sentenced Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow to between six and eight months on Thursday, over their involvement in a clash which sparked the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests. The sentencing followed a successful appeal of their sentences by the Department of Justice. Law and Wong had already completed their previous community service orders, whilst Chow was previously handed a suspended jail term.
News wire Reuters cited an unnamed senior government source as saying that “Hong Kong’s top prosecutors had initially ‘not recommended pursuing’ the case further after the non-jail terms were handed down.”
“But Hong Kong’s Secretary of Justice, Rimsky Yuen, overruled them and insisted on re-opening Wong’s case, a decision that ultimately led to their imprisonment,” the report cited the source as saying.
Responding to the allegations, Yuen told reporters on Friday: “If you look at the ruling of the appeal court, it shows that it was a correct decision to apply for a sentence review, because the courts also said that there was a need to create a guidance with regards to sentencing with such cases.”
“The lower courts made an error in principle during sentencing… you can see that in the entire process – from deciding to prosecute, to applying for a review, to the courts dealing with the matter – there is no political consideration in any of this.”
In a statement on Thursday, the Department of Justice (DoJ) denied any political motivation or any claim of political persecution.
“Such kind of allegations are utterly groundless, and choose to ignore the existence of objective evidence,” it read.
“In all criminal cases (including this one), DoJ deals with them in accordance with the Prosecution Code, the applicable law and relevant evidence. Further, the state of judicial independence in the HKSAR cannot be doubted.”
It said Hong Kong courts handled cases independently, justly and professionally.
“The above-named three defendants in this case were convicted not because they exercised their civil liberties, but because their conduct during the protest contravened the law,” it said.
“The court found the three defendants guilty on the basis of evidence presented during a fair trial as well as the applicable law… It can be seen from the reasoning contained in the Judgment that the Court of Appeal dealt with this case solely from the legal perspective, and that there cannot be any suggestion of political motivation whatsoever.”
The trio’s lawyers told HKFP on Thursday that they will lodge appeals to the highest court of Hong Kong.
Additional reporting: Karen Cheung.