Judicial authorities in Hong Kong have reassigned a magistrate publicly criticized by supporters of the ruling Chinese Communist Party for alleged pro-protester bias to a tribunal in charge of deciding what constitutes an obscenity.
West Kowloon Court magistrate Gary Lam will take up a new post at the city's Obscene Articles Tribunal on Nov. 2, on the basis of "operational requirements," the judiciary said in an announcement.
Lam's reassignment comes after the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao newspaper denounced his rulings as "ridiculous" and lambasted him a "yellow judge," in a reference to the color used by the city's pro-democracy movement, in opposition to the blue used as shorthand for the pro-government, pro-China camp.
Last Thursday, the judiciary also reassigned Eastern Court magistrate Stanley Ho, despite throwing out a complaint against him regarding his handling of protest-related cases.
Ho was also lambasted by the pro-China Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao newspapers after he hit out at police officers for allegedly lying in court.
During a case in mid-August, Ho accused two police officers of "piling lies upon lies," before acquitting District Councilor Jocelyn Chau and her assistant Lao Chak-kin, who had been accused of "assaulting" a police officer.
Ho hasn't heard any criminal cases since Sept. 18, and has since been appointed temporary deputy registrar of the high court, with judicial officials saying that this move was also made for "operational purposes."
Eight complaints against Ho were filed, including complaints that he had criticized evidence given by police officers. Six were rejected by the judiciary on Oct. 8, while two were set aside pending an application by justice department officials to review the cases to which they were related.
"The chief magistrate emphasised that the decisions and sentences given in the above-mentioned cases were judicial decisions made independently by the magistrate," the judiciary said in a statement at the time.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok hit out at pro-Beijing lawmaker Elizabeth Quat, who was among those who complained about Ho, for orchestrating a political witch-hunt in the manner of the political turmoil of China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
"Nobody, including the media or Legislative Council (LegCo) members, should be criticizing individual judges as a way to toe the party line," Kwok said. "This is tantamount to a Cultural Revolution, Hong Kong style."
"This magistrate has now been labeled a yellow judge, and these newspapers are joining forces with Elizabeth Quat to attack [judges]," he said. "This is just like the Cultural Revolution."
Pro-China LegCo member Holden Chow said it shouldn't be acceptable for a judge to accuse police of lying.
"We call on the judiciary to face up to this problem," Chow said. "Will magistrates in future be allowed to make indiscriminate accusations when dealing with police witnesses?"
The reassignments came after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said in September that Hong Kong no longer has any separation of powers -- a mechanism found in liberal democracies to ensure that lawmakers and judicial systems remain free of executive control.
Echoing ruling Chinese Communist Party doctrine for the rest of mainland China, chief executive Lam told journalists on Sept. 1: "There is no separation of powers in Hong Kong. Our high degree of autonomy doesn't mean we have total autonomy."
"Our executive, legislative, and judicial arms of government aren't separate as they would be ... in a constitutional political system," she said.
"Any power we enjoy here in Hong Kong is granted to us by the central leadership [in Beijing]."
Lam's comments were the starkest admission since China imposed a draconian national security regime on Hong Kong that the city is no longer regarded as a separate jurisdiction.
Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its traditional freedoms of press and association, as well as judicial independence, under the terms of the 1997 handover agreement.
But the imposition of the national security regime on the city from July 1, which includes a new headquarters for China's feared state security police to operate in Hong Kong, sparked an international outcry, with the U.S. imposing sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials, and many countries ending their extradition agreements with the city.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.