Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that the public should not claim a court made a “political judgment,” just because they were dissatisfied with its sentencing.
On Monday, Edward Leung was handed a six-year jail term for rioting and assaulting a police officer. He was charged over his involvement in the Mong Kok unrest, which broke out over Lunar New Year in 2016 when authorities attempted to clear street hawkers. Lo Kin-man, another defendant, was sentenced to seven years behind bars – a record-high for a rioting charge.
Pro-democracy figures have said the sentencing was too harsh and did not consider the political and social background of the defendants’ actions.
Ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Lam said that the public are entitled to their opinions over whether a sentencing was too harsh.
“But they absolutely should not criticise the court by claiming that it made a political judgment, or by claiming that the law was being used by politicians to give harsh sentences to pro-democracy activists – because of their personal opinion, because they were dissatisfied with the sentencing,” she said.
“Such claims harm Hong Kong’s core values as a society of rule of law, and the spirit of the rule of law that we are proud of,” she added.
“Prosecutions were made in accordance with the law and the evidence. Court rulings were made in accordance with the principle and spirit of the law and the evidence. There are absolutely no political factors in our prosecution work or court rulings.”
She said that some criticism of the court may be incited by politicians.
“If their stances were not in line with the government’s prosecutions or the court rulings, then they go ahead and destroy the whole system of rule of law,” she said. “I am very disappointed about that.”
She cited a speech by Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma made at the ceremony for the admission of new senior counsels last week. Ma said that people who have strong views often lose sight of the court’s role in controversial political, economic or social events and forget courts “deal only with the law.”
“They will say there is judicial independence if they favoured the court rulings; They will say the court was used politically if they did not favour the court rulings,” Lam said. “I hope those people who say these things will consider Ma’s words.”
Lam criticised the idea of civil disobedience, which she said some people had “romanticised.”
“As the chief executive and a mother of two sons, I do wish to see young people fight for justice and voice out against injustice. But it must be legal – they cannot conduct illegal activities at will, or they should undergo mental preparation to be punished by law,” she said.
She said all governments have inadequacies, “but it was not an excuse to assault police officers and create social disturbances.”
“As the chief executive, people will attack me less if I speak less – but I will say what I need to say, and do what I need to do,” she added.