Date of plea: 2022-02-04
Mitigation plea excerpt
LegCo is the place for enacting laws and monitoring the government. It is an important part of the separation of powers. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Therefore, any authority must have its constraint. When the three branches of government are all breathing from the same nostril, it will lead to total corruption of the regime.
Fernando Cheung was born on 23 February 1957. He got a Ph.D. degree in Social Welfare from the University of California, Berkeley in 1991. Cheung moved back to Hong Kong in 1996. There, he became a lecturer at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Moreover, as part of his engagement in the development of society in Hong Kong, Cheung became the vice-convener of Civil Human Rights Front in 2002. Cheung was first a member of Hong Kong’s Civic Party, from 2006 to 2010. Since 2011 he has been a member of the Labour Party. Cheung was a legislator from 2004 to 2008 for the social welfare functional constituency, and from 2012 for New Territories East. He was among the pro-democrats who resigned in November 2020, protesting the interference of Beijing in Hong Kong politics.
Mitigation plea in full
I have been a member of the Legislative Council for 12 years, and I have always been committed to using the council to fight for social justice, promote equal participation, and speak out for the underprivileged. It never occurred to me that after I have stepped back from the line of fire, I have to plead guilty to the crime of contempt of LegCo.
I entered the council because I believed it could serve as a check and balance to the government. I often used LegCo as a platform to give voice to the voiceless, to force the government to listen to the people’s voices, so as to correct wrong and unfair policies and improve people’s livelihood. During my tenure, I have promoted social concern for people with disabilities, patients with rare diseases, the lack of sufficient elderly homes and residential care homes for people with disabilities, students with special educational needs, children’s rights, new immigrants, single-parent households, ethnic minorities, refugees and other marginalised communities. Due to my efforts and that of my LegCo colleagues, public resources have been allocated to many groups in need. For me, LegCo is an important social infrastructure that drives progress, and I would not hold it in contempt.
On the contrary, the government has often shown great disrespect to LegCo. For example, senior government officials have threatened LegCo more than once. When formulating laws to improve labour conditions, they said if my proposed amendments with stronger labour protections were passed, the government would withdraw the bill altogether, scrapping everything in an act of “mutual destruction”. This attitude of executive arrogance and contempt for the council and the public is the root cause of many social problems, including wealth inequality, subdivided housing, inadequate healthcare and long-term care services, and numerous policy mistakes.
As a legislator and a social worker, my methods for seeking change must be in accordance with LegCo’s Rules of Procedure and be peaceful. In 2014, I stood outside the glass doors of LegCo and tried to stop demonstrators from smashing it. In 2019, a group of pro-democracy colleagues and I tried to do the same thing, because we believe in peace, we believe in talking sense. As long as everyone obeys the rules, the problem can be solved in the end. We respect “One Country, Two Systems” and abide by the Basic Law. It is a pity that most of my colleagues who stood by my side to keep the peace that day are now in prison. It is worth pondering who is the one breaking the rules, breaking the law, and even using the judicial system to crack down on opposition.
The background of this case has to do with LegCo’s House Committee. This committee has important functions and needs to re-elect its chairperson every year. At the time, the new chairperson had not yet been elected, but the LegCo President, based on his external legal advice, argued that the previous chairperson, Starry Lee, had the right to preside over the meeting. I believed it to be completely against the Rules of Procedure and simply absurd. In fact, we also sought legal advice from outside counsel, which concluded that Starry Lee had no right to preside over the meeting. Therefore at the time, I thought the meeting did not conform to the rules, and Starry Lee’s actions were definitely overstepping her authority. As a council member, it was my duty to raise objections, and I could not allow the council to operate totally outside the Rules of
Procedure. And I expressed this in a peaceful way.
The Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance is meant to protect council members’ right of expression, so that they can freely speak on behalf of the public without the threat of prosecution. At that time, we thought that the meeting did not conform to the Rules of Procedure, and naturally we would try our best to protest and stop it. In fact, disputes within the council should not be handled or settled by courts. The Ordinance exists precisely to avoid judicial intervention into the work of LegCo members. However, the government chose to use this law to sue council members, and more specifically, pro-democracy council members—this is political prosecution. What is even more unfortunate is that the Court of Final Appeal handed down a judgment that said this legislation only protects members’ speech but not their actions, which laid the foundation for the prosecution of this case.
LegCo is the place for enacting laws and monitoring the government. It is an important part of the separation of powers. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Therefore, any authority must have its constraint. When the three branches of government are all breathing from the same nostril, it will lead to total corruption of the regime. Hong Kong’s deep-seated conflicts over the years arose from the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few, making it impossible for citizens to live and work in peace, with the situation being even worse for the marginalised and the disadvantaged. The current regime uses draconian laws to suppress dissent, politicise society and instill white terror, which definitely cannot solve the problem.
Your Honour, I plead guilty but I have done nothing wrong. I don’t need to ask for leniency.
I am deeply honoured to be able to fight for social justice and promote democracy for Hongkongers as a member of LegCo. I have no complaints or regrets.
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Portrait photo from Wikimedia