Supporters of former senior police officer Frankly Chu, found guilty of causing 'actual bodily harm' to an unarmed bystander in the 2014 pro-democracy protests, call magistrate Bina Chainrai a "dog," local media reports.
Vocal public attacks on a Hong Kong judge who jailed a former police officer for attacking a bystander during the 2014 pro-democracy movement have prompted further concerns over the status of the judiciary in the city.
Supporters of former policeman Frankly Chu called Eastern Court magistrate Bina Chainrai a "dog" and attacked her ethnicity on Wednesday after she had sentenced him to three months' imprisonment in connection with an unprovoked attack on an unarmed member of the public, local media reported.
Some 30 of Chu's supporters had gathered outside the court ahead of the sentencing, holding banners that read "Injustice," "An insult to Hong Kong's police!" and "Hong Kong has become an international joke!"
They also said Chinese territory should be ruled by Chinese judges, government broadcaster RTHK reported, while the city's South China Morning Post (SCMP) quoted a woman at the scene with a megaphone as shouting: "Dismiss all foreign judges, we want Chinese ones. This is outrageous."
The court passed the sentence after finding Chu, 58, guilty of "actual bodily harm" at his trial on Dec. 18. Chu had swung his baton at Osman Cheng, hitting him in the neck as he was passing a group of protesters in Mong Kok on Nov. 6, 2014, the court heard.
"This sentence wasn't harsh, but it was unnecessary," Chu's defense lawyer Peter Pannu told reporters after the hearing. "We have plenty of basis [on which to appeal]."
Cheng said the length of the sentence didn't matter to him.
"The most important thing is that the court has issued its [guilty] verdict to show the general public that this sort of behavior by the police is wrong," he told reporters. "They have a duty to protect citizens and shouldn't be used as the political tool of the government."
He said claims that the case would harm morale just meant the police can't see when they have a problem.
"It is nonsense to say that the police should close ranks and protect each other when they do something wrong, for fear of damaging morale," Cheng said.
The ethnicity of some of Hong Kong's judges was also brought up early last year when District Court judge David Dufton jailed seven police officers for two years for beating up Occupy Central protester Ken Tsang. Dufton was called a "yellow dog" for the decision, in a reference to the yellow umbrella emblem of the protests.
Mainland media also "questioned the wisdom of allowing foreign judges to serve in Hong Kong, with commentaries accusing some judges in the territory of being biased," the SCMP said.
Meanwhile, Progressive Lawyers Group co-convener Kevin Yam said that verbal attacks on Chainrai could amount to contempt of court.
Chu's supporters may have gone too far in their attacks on Chainrai, Yam said in an interview with RTHK.
"I think it's absolutely outrageous and it shows a complete and utter ignorance of the legal system that we have, and the fact that we have for the longest of time had judges from all common law backgrounds," Yam said.
"In the case of the magistrate in question, she has been in Hong Kong for a long, long, time,” Yam said. There's no question of her somehow being a 'foreigner.' What has happened in terms of these comments, in my view anyway, borders on the criminal."
He said "egregious" comments without basis could potentially undermine confidence in the administration of justice, and therefore constitute contempt of court, hitting out at the city's justice secretary Rimsky Yuen, for failing to prosecute people for similar attacks in the past.
Chu has been released on bail pending an appeal.
Tough sentence as a ‘deterrent’
Chainrai said she had handed down a tough sentence as a "deterrent," to maintain the public's confidence in the police. She said Chu should have been preventing crime, not committing it, while he was on duty. The sentence also took into account online harassment suffered by Cheng and his family since the incident.
Chainrai dismissed the defense's argument that police officers were under psychological pressure from working long hours throughout the 79-day Occupy Central movement, saying that was no reason to attack an unarmed passer-by who had done nothing to provoke it.
Chu said he was using "appropriate force" during the attack, which was captured on video by a nearby TV crew, although Cheng was already complying with an order to leave the area.
The attacks on Chainrai come as thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Monday in protest over a recent decision from Beijing that many say has made a nonsense of the city's planned autonomy.
Last week, Beijing's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), said it would extend Beijing's authority to part of a high-speed railway station linking the former British colony to the rest of China's high-speed rail network.
But critics say the move, which is intended to enable a streamlined entry and exit process for passengers, makes a mockery of the city's status as a separate immigration, policing, and customs jurisdiction.
The city's legal profession and pro-democracy politicians have also slammed the "co-location" arrangement as unconstitutional, but pro-Beijing politicians and government officials have said the decision will stand, and that new laws will be tabled this month in the Legislative Council (LegCo) to implement the ruling.
Recent high-profile interventions by the NPC have also triggered a series of court decisions resulting in the loss of six pro-democracy seats in LegCo, meaning that the plan is unlikely to meet with effective opposition once tabled.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.