HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s head of public prosecutions quit this week, citing differences with the city’s top legal official, and after being sidelined from cases under new China-imposed national security legislation, according to an email obtained by Reuters.
The resignation is the first involving a senior Hong Kong official since Beijing imposed the harsh security laws on the city, and is a sign of discomfort within the government regarding the new arrangements.
David Leung, who heads the city’s Department of Justice and who recently led a high-profile public prosecution against pro-democracy leaders involved with the city’s 2014 Occupy Central protests, wrote in the email that he could no longer work with Hong Kong’s justice secretary Teresa Cheng.
“It is most unfortunate that I do not see eye-to-eye with the SJ (Secretary for Justice) on the running of PD (Prosecutions Division), and the situation has not improved with the passage of time,” he wrote in the email obtained by Reuters.
Cheng’s office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. Local media reported that Cheng had confirmed Leung’s resignation.
Leung added in his email that for national security cases that had arisen since the laws took effect on Jun 30 he had no knowledge of proceedings.
Leading Hong Kong lawyers have already warned of a stark new era of mainland justice.
Hong Kong’s proudly independent judiciary, one of many freedoms guaranteed when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule 23 years ago, has long been considered key to its success as a global financial hub.
A source with direct knowledge of the matter said it was “shocking” that the head of Hong Kong’s prosecutions division could be sidelined in this manner.
“He’s been completely cut out from national security matters,” said the source, who declined to be named given the sensitivity of the matter.
“Yet these are prosecutions in Hong Kong, and he’s the head of public prosecutions. It undermines the rule of law … and established practices,” the source added.
Under Article 18 of the new security legislation, the Department of Justice is required to set up a “specialised prosecution division responsible for the prosecution of offences endangering national security and other related legal work”.
Prosecutors of this division will be appointed by the Secretary for Justice.