Friday, July 13, 2012

Don't take independent judiciary for granted

Hong Kong people are accustomed to an independent judiciary, so much so it is like fish living in water, part of life.  The least exciting court I believe will be the Coroner's Court where causes of certain deaths are to be investigated.  Cases are few, like this week, the Court only registered two cases, one inquest being with jury and one without.

In Hong Kong, the Coroner may hold an inquest with a jury of five or without a jury when (1) a person dies suddenly (2) by accident (3) by violence under suspicious circumstances and (4) when the dead body of a person is found in or brought into Hong Kong.  An inquest, however, must be held: (1) when a death occurs in official custody, for example in a prison or a detention centre (this inquest must be held with a jury) (2) upon the request of the Secretary for Justice. It very much covers every possible suspicious case.

In Mainland China things work differently.  In the recent suspicious death of Mr. Li WangYang (李旺阳), due to an unanimous cry of concerns from Hong Kong citizens, the provincial authority conducted an investigation of the case which was previously ruled by the county authority as a simple and straight forward suicide case.  A kind of higher level of authority investigates a lower level of authority.   The provincial investigation published yesterday upheld the findings of the lower authority.  Even without raising the issue of impartiality, media in Hong Kong quickly pointed out two points in the report, among others, that are highly contentious:

1. The alleged signature of Li's sister obviously didn't look similar to her previous authenticated signature (Li's sister's current whereabouts is unknown to any except the authority, so she is not here to testify either way).  And the investigation report claimed that Li's sister agreed to the findings, and "chose" not to see anyone now, as reviewed in a "signed" statement. 

2.  From a medical point of view, Philip Beh Swan-lip, associate professor at the University of Hong Kong's department of pathology, cast doubts over the report's findings. "What made me look again is that the report said he had neck fracture," Beh said. In short, the stated fact of a broken neck is inconsistent with the alleged partial suspension suicide.

The death is suspicious, and now the "official" investigation report is contentious.  Relations and many sympathizers in the Mainland simply "disappeared" with no logical reason.

This incident taught me a lesson: don't take independent judiciary for granted.  And a coroner's inquest can actually be very important.

Same signature or different signatures?

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