The Department of Justice on Friday said it would launch a probe after a court prosecutor sent an email to his colleague hours before this year’s June 4 Tiananmen Square vigil telling them he “wished we could do the same thing”.
While senior court prosecutor William Wong Wa-fung stopped short of issuing an invitation or indicating precisely what he meant by that “thing”, he noted this year’s commemoration would be “the last June 4 before the enactment of the national security law”, according to the email published in local media.
A Department of Justice spokesman said “a civil servant must be completely loyal to the sitting chief executive”. He added that staff email accounts should be used strictly for work purposes, and any breach would lead to disciplinary action if found to be true.
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“The Department of Justice would follow it up in a serious manner and spare zero tolerance,” he said.
Hong Kong has been the only place on Chinese soil to hold an annual, large-scale commemoration of the 1989 crackdown. But the event was made unlawful for the first time ever this year, as large group gatherings were restricted under social-distancing measures, which police cited in refusing to issue a letter of no objection.
A civil servant must oblige by the law and be dedicated to his duty, impartial and politically neutral, and regardless of one’s political belief ... be completely loyal to the sitting chief executive
A Department of Justice spokesman
The future of the event was further shrouded by uncertainties following Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law on the city at the end of that month.
Wong, the former chairman of the Court Prosecutors (Department of Justice) Association, admitted to the Post on Friday that he had indeed sent the email to his fellow court prosecutors. But he stressed he no longer held any position with the association at the time the email was sent. He wrote that he “was asked” to send it, but did not elaborate further.
A Department of Justice spokesman said it would follow existing protocols for handling any breaches of guidelines. “If the breaches are proven to be genuine following the investigation, [we] will handle it impartially, which will include disciplinary actions,” he said.
“The email system of the Department of Justice is limited to work purposes. In addition, an internal guideline from the Department of Justice states that staff should not use the email to engage in activities that would embarrass or damage the reputation of the government, including disseminating inappropriate information,” he said.
“A civil servant must oblige by the law and be dedicated to his duty, impartial and politically neutral, and regardless of one’s political belief, a civil servant must be completely loyal to the sitting chief executive,” he said, adding that had always been at the core of their values.
Former director of public prosecutions Grenville Cross called the incident “strange”, and said the issue centred on political neutrality and whether he had invited court prosecutors to participate in an event that had been banned due to Covid 19.
The turnout for the June 4 vigil took a plunge this year as participation was effectively illegal, though more than 1,000 showed up at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, the usual venue, to raise candles despite 3,000 riot police officers being deployed across the city.
Smaller crowds sprang up in other districts, from Ma On Shan to Mong Kok, where a few were arrested. But police did not make mass arrests that night.
Later, from June 11 until the start of August, police arrested and prosecuted 24 opposition activists and lawmakers, former and incumbent, for inciting or taking part in the vigil, including Lee Cheuk-yan, an organiser from long-time vigil organiser the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.