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 because of a highly controversial extradition Bill.
Dressed in black, more than 3,000 lawyers yesterday 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 as many lawyers had 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 would face unfair trials in an opaque system.
Yesterday, former Bar Association chairman Alan Leong urged the 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 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 protesters under arrest are taking an increasingly political slant after 44 were charged with rioting, a serious crime that carries a 10-year jail term.
Last week, a group of anonymous government prosecutors published an open letter accusing 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 yesterday that Ms Cheng's decision to charge the 44 protesters with rioting indicated selective prosecution, as no charges had been brought against the dozens of armed men who had set upon and attacked unsuspecting protesters and commuters at an MTR station last month.
"If she is fast-tracking the charge of rioting, you would expect her to have fast-tracked also the charges of the 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.
Aug 8, 7pm Protest at Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui
Aug 9, 1pm Sit-in at Hong Kong International Airport arrival hall
Aug 10 March from Tai Po Tau bus terminal to Hong Kong Jockey Club in Tai Po
Aug 11, 1pm March from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to Java Road playground
Aug 11, 2.30pm March from Maple Street playground in Sham Shui Po to Sham Shui Po sports ground
In response, the Justice Department said prosecutorial decisions are professional and fair, and based on evidence gathered and not political considerations.
Also yesterday, 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) would have got what they want and dispersed," Mr Tien said, referring to his conversation with protesters who surrounded Tsuen Wan police headquarters on Monday.
He noted that many protested as they felt their voices were not heard.
Mr Tien was part of the Hong Kong delegation at a seminar in Shenzhen attended by members of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference yesterday.
Separately, the Eastern Court heard that five people, aged 22 to 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 yesterday, RTHK reported. No pleas were taken. The accused were released on bail of HK$1,000 (S$175) and given curfews. Their cases were adjourned until Oct 2.
The lawyers' march yesterday marks the sixth straight day of protests this month alone.
The unrest of the last two months began with peaceful protests that have turned increasingly confrontational, with protesters and police clashing regularly now. Many dozens have been injured.
On Tuesday night, a group of protesters laid siege to Sham Shui Po police station following the arrest of a student leader. The police fired rounds of tear gas from inside the station at the crowd of hundreds.
Baptist University Student Union president Keith Fong was detained on suspicion of carrying offensive weapons, after plainclothes police officers said they found 10 laser pointers in his bag.
The police yesterday said they arrested nine people on Tuesday night. So far, 589 people aged 13 to 76 have been arrested for offences including taking part in a riot, unlawful assembly, assaulting officers and possession of offensive weapons.