The government denounced acts of vandalism that targeted a top court during an anti-government protest on Wednesday, also saying that attempts to smear or attack individual judges are extremely deplorable.
Responding to a graffiti incident that took place at the High Court premises in Admiralty on New Year’s Day, the?Department of Justice (DoJ) pointed out that acts aimed against the judiciary and?personal attacks and insults targeting judges would “severely undermine the authority of the courts and damage public confidence in the judicial system.”
The comment came after some protesters, while on a march from Causeway Bay to Central in a large-scale New Year demonstration, painted graffiti on the outer wall of the High Court building in a suspected attempt to express unhappiness at some court decisions.?
A piece of graffiti saying “the rule of law has died” in Chinese was found on the outer walls of the building in the afternoon.
Also, a High Court judge, Anthea Pang Po-kam, was mentioned by name in another piece of graffiti in Chinese on the wall, insulting her and accusing her of being from a “red background”.
Pang had ruled on a high-profile case last year in relation to the 2016 Mong Kok clashes between protesters and the police, sentencing several activists involved in the incident to jail.
The graffiti attack targeting her could be seen as an attempt to portray her as a judge with pro-establishment bias.
Wednesday’s incident came after a previous attack on courts last month, when some people threw petrol bombs outside the High Court as well as the Court of Final Appeal building on Dec. 8, a day when Hong Kong witnessed a massive anti-government rally.
“Judicial independence is an essential element of the rule of law,” the DoJ said in a statement issued on Sunday night.
The government respects the freedom of speech of individuals, and the public have the right to express their views on court decisions and related matters within the boundary permitted by the law, it said.
However, abusing the judiciary and “personal attacks and insults against judges would severely undermine the authority of the courts and damage public confidence in the judicial system,” the DoJ said.
“Any person who is dissatisfied with court decisions may lodge appeals through the excising mechanism and should not criticize judges abusively or impute them of political bias, otherwise, the rule of law in Hong Kong would be undermined.”
The police said Wednesday night that the insulting words against a judge had been spray-painted on the outer wall of High Court building at around 6 pm.
On Thursday morning, some personnel carried out cleaning work on the graffiti outside the court building, covering them with sheets of white paper.
Strongly condemning the move “which defies the spirit of the law”, the police said it will enforce the law impartially, and that it has classified the case as “criminal damage”.
An investigation by a police team from the Central District is underway.
Expressing regret after learning about the personal attack on a judge, Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, who represents the legal sector, called such behavior inappropriate.
That said, Kwok added that while the government has the responsibility to safeguard the rule law, abuse of power by authorities and indiscriminate use of violence by the police, both unchecked, are what is actually damaging the rule of law.
Expressing shock at the vandalism on the High Court building, Melissa Kaye Pang, president of the Law Society of Hong Kong, pointed out that legal circles had issued statements multiple times condemning unreasonable attacks and criticism on courts.
Upholding judicial independence and the rule of law is the duty of all Hong Kong citizens, Pang said, adding that the legal community has a duty to step forward and voice an unwavering commitment to defense of both these core values.
The Judiciary, meanwhile,?said it had asked the police to follow up on Wednesday’s incident, and that it won’t comment further at this stage. But it reiterated that judges and judicial officers have been handling cases according to the law to ensure justice.
It added that if parties to litigation are dissatisfied with court decisions or sentences, there is an appeals mechanism in place.
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