Former Hong Kong opposition lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting has been jailed for four months for exposing a corruption investigation into a police commander on duty when a mob attacked protesters and commuters at Yuen Long MTR station on July 21, 2019.
The 44-year-old Democratic Party member was found guilty on Wednesday of three counts of disclosing the identity of people under investigation when he revealed an inquiry by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) into Superintendent Yau Nai-keung following the violent attack.
Eastern Court Magistrate Jacky Ip Kai-leung rejected Lam’s defence that it was in the public interest for him to divulge the information because of Yau’s selection to lead a police investigation into the incident.
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Instead, the magistrate said the revelation could have alerted the police commander and risked the destruction of evidence before the anti-corruption watchdog could potentially charge him for any alleged misconduct.
Yau was an assistant commander in Yuen Long when more than 100 white-clad men, most of them armed with rods and rattan canes, injured at least 45 people in an incident that was widely regarded as an escalation point for tensions between police and radical protesters during the social unrest that year.
After a preliminary investigation on the night of the incident, Yau told the press that his team had found no rods in a nearby village where most of the assailants had gathered after the attack and uncovered no signs of criminal activity. He later became a regional commander in the northern New Territories.
Lam subsequently held three press conferences between December 2019 and July last year, during which he accused police of spreading lies and delaying an investigation into the incident.
The politician also revealed that Yau was being investigated by the ICAC for alleged misconduct in public office and criticised the force’s decision to allow the officer to lead an inquiry into the attack while his integrity was under scrutiny.
“It is absurd that the [police] commissioner assigned the main suspect [of a misconduct inquiry] to investigate the other suspects of the case,” Lam was recorded as saying.
But the magistrate noted that the remarks were in breach of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance, which forbids the disclosure of corruption investigations to ensure their secrecy.
Ip also said Lam could have achieved his objective by telling the public of the irregularities surrounding Yau’s new appointment and pressuring the force into reversing the promotion, rather than exposing the investigation.
As part of his plea for leniency, Lam said he did not regret visiting Yuen Long on the night of the attack and trying to stop the mobsters, despite sustaining multiple injuries.
“I have fought the good fight,” he told the magistrate. “That night, I fully understood how dangerous Yuen Long was, but how could I, a representative of the people, sit still and be concerned only for my own safety after seeing innocent people beaten up by triads?”
“My conscience told me that it would be a disgrace of a lifetime and an unforgivable sin to turn my back on the people … I am willing to sacrifice my freedom for Yuen Long, my hometown, for beautiful Hong Kong and everyone that I love and cherish.”
His speech drew applause from spectators in the court’s gallery, who shouted words of encouragement.
The magistrate granted Lam’s request for bail, pending his appeal at the High Court, but said the politician would remain behind bars to await trial for five other cases.
Lam is set to stand trial in March 2023 alongside six others for allegations of rioting during the mob attack. The former lawmaker will also be tried in a national security case over his alleged role in an unofficial primary election for the Legislative Council in 2020.
Ten men have currently been charged with rioting for taking part in the July 21 attack against protesters and commuters as of date. Seven of them have been jailed for 3½ to seven years. One was cleared of all charges and two are still awaiting trial.
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