Letters containing highly corrosive substances were delivered to two Hong Kong courts on Tuesday, prompting the deployment of bomb disposal officers and sparking the second round of evacuations in less than a week related to judicial intimidation.
One letter sent to Sha Tin Court was addressed to Magistrate Pang Leung-ting, while the other, sent to West Kowloon Court, was intended for Deputy Judge Kathie Cheung Kit-yee, who was also the target of a similar delivery last week, according to a police source.
The source said Tuesday’s letters were found to contain lye, also known as caustic soda or sodium hydroxide, a substance capable of causing chemical burns. It is used in a variety of manufacturing processes.
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The highly corrosive chemical was also sent to Cheung last Thursday, prompting an evacuation.
Both Cheung and Pang have recently handed down verdicts against participants in the 2019 anti-government protests. Cases pertaining to the months-long social unrest have become a major source of complaints directed at local judges.
Cheung jailed five Chinese University students for nearly five years last month over their participation in a protest at the Sha Tin campus in 2019.
Last week, Pang sentenced two protesters to almost a year in jail for assaulting police officers at a separate protest in Sha Tin, although he also acquitted three in a different case in August.
Condemning the attempts to intimidate judges, the Department of Justice on Tuesday said in a statement that the actions were “unacceptable to Hong Kong as a society which observes the rule of law”.
“The [department] strongly deplores recent cases of criminal intimidation against judges. Offenders will be brought to justice,” it added, warning the government would spare no effort in bringing those responsible to justice.
The actions were also denounced by the two bodies representing the city’s legal profession.
“Any attack on a judge or judicial staff is an attack on justice. Judges must be absolutely free to do their duty without fear or favour,” said Bar Association chairman Paul Harris.
Law Society president Chan Chak-ming characterised the efforts at intimidation as a threat to the rule of law, saying they “must immediately cease”.
On Tuesday, more than 30 people were told to clear a floor of West Kowloon Court on Tung Chau Street in Sham Shui Po after a staff member raised the alarm over the first letter at 11.17am. A police spokesman said the bomb squad was sent to examine the letter, and no one was injured.
At 11.49am, the squad was deployed to examine another suspicious letter that prompted the evacuation of around 40 people at Sha Tin Court on Yi Ching Lane.
“In the letter [to Cheung on Tuesday], there was a small envelope carrying a white powdered substance,” the source said, adding that it also contained a profanely worded message.
The two grams of lye sent to Cheung last week came wrapped in aluminium foil, and were also accompanied by a profane note.
The letter delivered to Pang on Tuesday similarly contained a white powder identified as lye, the source said, but no note was attached.
Some of the offices at the two buildings were closed for a few hours following the scares, but court proceedings were not affected.
The police source said both cases had been classified as criminal intimidation, and crime squad officers were investigating whether they were linked.
In Hong Kong, anyone who threatens another person with injury faces up to five years behind bars.
Judges have increasingly come under fierce criticism in the past year, as defendants who took part in the polarising 2019 protests stand trial. Some judges have found themselves accused of persecuting protesters, and others of being too lenient.
In August, a man was arrested for putting up allegedly seditious posters threatening three High Court judges, hand-picked by the chief executive to oversee national security law cases, who had recently convicted the city’s first defendant under the Beijing-imposed legislation. The three judges also received threatening calls.
District Court Judge Amanda Woodcock similarly received threatening calls in May after concluding a trial in which she convicted various opposition figures, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, on charges arising from an unlawful National Day protest in 2019.
In December, Chief Magistrate Victor So Wai-tak – also among those selected to adjudicate national security cases – received a bomb threat after denying Lai bail in a separate subversion case.
Beijing’s liaison office in the city condemned the threats against So and Woodcock at the time.