HONG KONG: Hong Kong lawyers held a silent march on Wednesday (Aug 7) in support of anti-government protesters and to call on the government to safeguard the independence of the city's department of justice.
Hundreds of lawyers dressed in black marched under the scorching sun from the city's highest court to the justice secretary's office.
Hong Kong has faced months of protests that began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition Bill and that have evolved into a direct challenge to the government of embattled leader Carrie Lam.
The legal professionals - who usually avoid demonstrations - have now marched twice since early June.
They are backing the protest movement's demand for an independent inquiry into law enforcement tactics but they also said they were marching against politically motivated prosecutions from the city's Department of Justice.
"I really dislike how this government uses scaremongering and divisive tactics," senior counsel Anita Yip told AFP.
"They carry out prosecutions selectively ... How would people still have confidence in the government?" she added, referring to the perceived different treatment given by police to protesters and their opponents, pro-government thugs with suspected triad links.
Hong Kong police have arrested more than 500 protesters and charged dozens with rioting, which carries a maximum 10 years in jail.
But they have so far only arrested 19 men for last month's attacks on democracy protesters that hospitalised 45 people, and only on the less serious charge of unlawful assembly.
In a statement after the march, the city's Justice Department insisted it engaged in "objective and professional assessment" to determine which cases to prosecute.
"The DoJ will not handle the cases differently due to the political beliefs or background of the persons involved," the statement added.
The attorneys called for an independent inquiry to be held to determine the causes of the crisis, independent of the government and the police, said Solicitor John J Clancey.
"Secondly, we want a very independent prosecution procedure (against protesters)," he added.
Hong Kong legislator Dennis Kwok said in Cantonese: "We would like to tell all Hong Kong people, if you are arrested or accused, the legal profession will not just stand by."
A female lawyer who declined to be named said she was marching "to make sure the government knows that within the legal sector, we will not allow judicial independence to be compromised by politics or pressure from the Chinese government".
A group of unidentified government prosecutors published an open letter last week accusing Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng of putting politics above legal principles.
"All we want is justice and all we want is consistency," said prominent lawyer Kevin Yam, who also protested. "We don't want to see thugs get away while the best of our youth get prosecuted. We uphold the rule of law and we ask for justice."
Protesters accuse the police of using excessive violence against their movement and turning a blind eye to triad gangs - accusations the force strongly denies.
They have also vowed to keep the movement going until their core demands are met, such as an independent inquiry into police tactics, a permanent withdrawal of the Bill, amnesty for those arrested, and universal suffrage.
"Law enforcement is an important element in law. If law enforcement is done poorly, how can we tell others that Hong Kong has rule of law?" said 22-year-old law student Michelle Wong, who joined the march.
On Monday the city witnessed a rare general strike and the most widespread unrest in two months of demonstrations - with police firing 800 rounds of tear gas in a single day at a dozen locations.
"It's very important to show that there can be peaceful and effective demonstrations," said 77-year-old lawyer Warwick Haldane.
"No one is going to throw anything, and I hope we're not going to get tear gassed or charged by anyone."
Some expressed sympathy with the more hardcore protesters battling police.
One man, wearing a suit, donned the protest movement's signature goggles, mask and a construction helmet.
On the helmet he had written the words "Won't sever ties even in the event of a nuclear explosion" - implying he would stand by the protesters no matter what.
Ms Yip said the broad consensus on the demand to set up an independent commission of inquiry should be respected as the city reels under its worst political crisis in decades with no exit in sight.
"The only commonality appears to be holding a public inquiry. I know it may not be easy but (the government) needs to think about how to accomplish this," she said.
Hong Kong's protests, which continued on Wednesday, pose a major challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is grappling with a trade war with the United States and a slowing economy.