Beijing loyalists target HK judges

by AFP/ pic by AFP

HONG KONG • The acquittal of dozens of Hong Kong (HK) prodemocracy protesters — often accompanied by withering court criticism of police — has triggered a backlash from Beijing loyalists demanding an overhaul of a judicial system long known for its independence.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong owes much of its success as a financial hub to its transparent legal system.

Unlike authoritarian China’s judicial structure — where opaque courts are party-controlled and convictions all but guaranteed — Hong Kong’s is internationally respected.

But as Beijing cracks down following last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests, judges are now finding themselves in the crossfire of the city’s festering political divide.

Much of that criticism comes from a pro-establishment bloc infuriated by acquittals or perceived light sentences for protesters.

Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po — two staunchly pro-Beijing newspapers based in Hong Kong — have led the charge, publishing articles calling for judicial reform and deriding “yellow judges” — the colour associated with the democracy movement.

Prominent local pro-Beijing politicians have joined in, calling certain judges biased, and lobbying for the creation of a sentencing committee to impose harsher jail terms.

In October, graffiti daubed in red paint appeared on a wall reading in Chinese: “Police arrested people but the ‘dog judge’ released them”.

That message targeted former Magistrate Stanley Ho, who had recently acquitted two people of assaulting police.

Ho slammed two testifying officers for “telling lies to cover lies”, and said the force used against those they arrested was “completely unnecessary”.

District councillor Jocelyn Chau, one of the two exonerated, remains furious about the trial and months spent on bail.

Testimony or evidence from police in at least 27 protest cases has been dismissed by magistrates as either unreliable, contradictory or not credible, and resulted in acquittal, according to an AFP tally based on local media reports.

No officer has been disciplined for evidence given on the stand. A police spokesperson said any court complaint about an officer would be handled “in a fair and impartial manner”. — AFP