Former Hong Kong opposition lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting has been granted court bail after being charged with divulging details of an inquiry by the anti-graft agency into a Yuen Long police commander on duty when a mob attacked protesters and passengers in the district's railway station last year.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which arrested Lam at his home at around 8am on Monday, said it had investigated the alleged disclosure after receiving complaints and sought legal advice from the Department of Justice before charging the ex-Democratic Party lawmaker with three counts of disclosing the identity of persons under investigation.
The 43-year-old was accused of illegally revealing that Superintendent Yau Nai-keung, then assistant commander in Yuen Long district, was the subject of an investigation by the watchdog into the attack at Yuen Long MTR Station, which took place amid last year’s anti-government protests.
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The charge facing Lam is punishable by a year in prison and a HK$20,000 (US$2,580) fine under the city’s Prevention of Bribery Ordinance, which covers charges related to bribery of public servants, as well as interfering with an investigation.
The former legislator was not required to enter a plea when his case was heard at Eastern Magistrates’ Court on Monday afternoon, just hours after his release from ICAC headquarters in North Point. Albert Ho Chun-yan, a fellow Democratic Party member who represented him in the proceedings, asked the court for extra time to obtain prosecution documents and offer legal advice to his client.
Principal Magistrate Bina Chainrai adjourned the case to March 9 before granting the HK$2,000 bail, on the condition he remain in Hong Kong and reside at his flat in Sha Tin.
Before the hearing began, a handful of Lam’s supporters held slogans and banners outside the court building in Sai Wan Ho, while dozens of police officers stood nearby, with some carrying colour-coded flags used to warn protesters at large-scale demonstrations.
In the incident in Yuen Long on July 21 last year, a mob of white-clad men attacked protesters and passengers with rods and rattan canes, with at least 45 people injured. It is widely regarded as a turning point in the social unrest that led to an escalation of tensions between police and radical protesters.
Critics questioned the absence of police that night, but the force said its manpower was stretched to capacity while dealing with a protest in the heart of the city.
It is saddening to witness the fall of the graft-buster as a former [Independent Commission Against Corruption] investigator myself
Former lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting
Following his release, Lam said he was outraged by his arrest, especially given that no police officers have yet been held accountable for their mishandling of the attack more than a year later.
“The ICAC has become a political tool of the Department of Justice to oppress dissidents,” he said. “It is saddening to witness the fall of the graft-buster, as a former ICAC investigator myself.”
In a statement, the watchdog said that Lam allegedly, on three occasions between last December and July of this year, “knowing or suspecting that an investigation in respect to an offence alleged or suspected to have been committed under Part II of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance was taking place, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, disclosed to the public or a section of the public the identity of a subject person of such investigation”.
Lam, who was at the scene during the Yuen Long attack, has been a vocal critic of the police force’s slow reaction that night. He suffered an injury to his mouth that required 18 stitches and was charged with rioting in August for his role in the event, as police argued the incident was not an indiscriminate attack, and “both sides had equally relied on force”.
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