HONG KONG - For the second time since anti-extradition protests escalated in June, thousands of lawyers joined a silent march to demand an independent inquiry into the unrest that has roiled Hong Kong, sparked by the highly controversial extradition Bill.
Dressed in black, more than 3,000 lawyers on Wednesday (Aug 7) marched from the Court of Final Appeal to Justice Place shortly before 1pm, making this the sixth and largest silent protest of its kind staged by the legal community since Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.
On June 6, nearly 3,000 lawyers joined a silent march to urge the government to immediately withdraw the contentious Bill, which would have allowed Hong Kong to hand over fugitives to various jurisdictions, such as Taiwan and, more importantly, mainland China, where they said suspects face unfair trials due to the opaque system.
On Wednesday, former Bar Association chairman Alan Leong urged authorities to act to save Hong Kong.
“Because our system is deteriorating at a speed that is totally unacceptable. Unless we do something to regain the trust and confidence of not only Hong Kong, but also of the international community, in the Hong Kong legal system, we are doomed,” he said.
The lawyers also said they fear that the justice department’s prosecutions of arrested protesters are taking an increasingly political slant after 44 protesters were charged with rioting, an offence that carries a 10-year jail term.
Last week, a group of anonymous government prosecutors published an open letter alleging Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng of putting politics above legal principles.
Ms Audrey Eu, a senior counsel and a co-founder of the Civic Party, told the crowd on Wednesday that Ms Cheng’s decision to charge the 44 protesters with rioting indicates selective prosecution.
“If she is fast-tracking the charge of rioting, you would expect her to have fast-tracked also the charges of these attacks in Yuen Long on July 21. The very fact that she failed to do so cannot give you any other conclusion than that there is bias and there is political motive,” said Ms Eu.
On July 21, while a group of radical protesters battled with police in the streets of Sheung Wan, a group of armed white-clad men indiscriminately beat up passengers dressed in black and other coloured tops, at Yuen Long MTR station.
Many protesters and some citizens have been outraged at the delayed response by the police to calls for help that night.
In response, the Justice Department said prosecutorial decisions are professional and fair, based on evidence gathered and void of political considerations as some alleged.
On Wednesday morning, pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien told local broadcaster RTHK that he would press Beijing officials to tell Chief Executive Carrie Lam to fully withdraw the Bill and order an independent inquiry into the affair – the two most important demands of the protesters.
“(The protesters) agreed with me that if the government accedes to these requests, at least half of the supporters (of the protest) at the back would have gotten what they want and disappeared,” Mr Tien said, referring to his conversation with protesters who surrounded Tsuen Wan police headquarters on Monday.
He noted that many have protested as they felt their voices were not heard.
Mr Tien is part of the Hong Kong delegation to a seminar in Shenzhen attended by members of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on Wednesday.
Separately, the Eastern Court heard that five people, aged between 22 and 32, face criminal charges for allegedly damaging traffic lights in Tsuen Wan during a protest in the early hours of Monday, ahead of calls for a citywide strike.
Of the five, two are also accused of failing to provide the police with identification documents.
Three of the five appeared in court on Wednesday morning, RTHK reported, adding that no pleas were taken. The accused were released on bail of HK$1,000 (S$177) and given curfews. Their cases have been adjourned till Oct 2.
The lawyers’ march on Wednesday marks the sixth straight day of protests this month alone.
Hong Kong has been plagued with unrest in the last two months as anti-extradition protesters turn increasingly confrontational in their tactics, leading to riot police firing rounds of tear gas on multiple occasions.
On Tuesday night, a group of protesters lay siege to Sham Shui Po police station following the arrest of a student leader.
The police then fired rounds of tear-gas from inside the station at the crowd of hundreds.
Baptist University University Student Union president Keith Fong was detained on suspicion of carrying offensive weapons, after plainclothed police said they found 10 laser pointers in his bag.
The police on Wednesday said they arrested nine people on Tuesday night.
So far, 589 people have been arrested for offences including taking part in a riot, unlawful assembly, assaulting officers, and possession of offensive weapons.
Meanwhile, calls on Telegram chat are asking people to bring their laser pointers to go star gazing outside the Space Museum at 8pm on Wednesday.