Published:  03:30 AM, 08 August 2019

HK lawyers march in silence to support anti-govt protesters

HK lawyers march in silence to support anti-govt protesters Lawyers and members of the election committee's legal sector hold a silent march in Hong Kong on Wednesday. -AFP

Hong Kong lawyers held a silent march on Wednesday in support of anti-government protesters and to call on the government to safeguard the independence of the city's department of justice.Hundreds of lawyers dressed in black marched under the scorching sun from the city's highest court to the justice secretary's office.

Hong Kong has faced months of protests that began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition Bill and that have evolved into a direct challenge to the government of embattled leader Carrie Lam.

The legal professionals - who usually avoid demonstrations - have now marched twice since early June. They are backing the protest movement's demand for an independent inquiry into law enforcement tactics but they also said they were marching against politically motivated prosecutions from the city's Department of Justice.

"I really dislike how this government uses scaremongering and divisive tactics," senior counsel Anita Yip told AFP. "They carry out prosecutions selectively ... How would people still have confidence in the government?" she added, referring to the perceived different treatment given by police to protesters and their opponents, pro-government thugs with suspected triad links.

The attorneys called for an independent inquiry to be held to determine the causes of the crisis, independent of the government and the police, said Solicitor John J Clancey. "Secondly, we want a very independent prosecution procedure (against protesters)," he added.

Hong Kong police have arrested more than 500 protesters and charged dozens with rioting, which carries a maximum 10 years in jail. But they have so far only arrested 19 men for last month's attacks on democracy protesters that hospitalized 45 people, and only on the less serious charge of unlawful assembly.

Hong Kong legislator Dennis Kwok said in Cantonese: "We would like to tell all Hong Kong people, if you are arrested or accused, the legal profession will not just stand by." A female lawyer who declined to be named said she was marching "to make sure the government knows that within the legal sector, we will not allow judicial independence to be compromised by politics or pressure from the Chinese government".

A group of unidentified government prosecutors published an open letter last week accusing Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng of putting politics above legal principles. "All we want is justice and all we want is consistency," said prominent lawyer Kevin Yam, who also protested. "We don't want to see thugs get away while the best of our youth get prosecuted. We uphold the rule of law and we ask for justice."

Protesters accuse the police of using excessive violence against their movement and turning a blind eye to triad gangs - accusations the force strongly denies. They have also vowed to keep the movement going until their core demands are met, such as an independent inquiry into police tactics, a permanent withdrawal of the Bill, amnesty for those arrested, and universal suffrage.

"Law enforcement is an important element in law. If law enforcement is done poorly, how can we tell others that Hong Kong has rule of law?" said 22-year-old law student Michelle Wong, who joined the march.

On Monday the city witnessed a rare general strike and the most widespread unrest in two months of demonstrations - with police firing 800 rounds of tear gas in a single day at a dozen locations.

---AFP, Hong Kong

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