HONG KONG -- The anti-graft agency in Hong Kong dropped corruption charges against pop singer Anthony Wong Yiu-ming on Thursday, contingent upon an 18-month arrangement under which the star must "maintain good behavior."
A prosecutor representing the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) told the city's Eastern Court that it had agreed to settle the case with a "bind-over" surety of 2,000 Hong Kong dollars ($257), given the "minor nature" of the matter and Wong's previously clean criminal record.
Wong was arrested on Monday by ICAC officers because he sang two songs at a by-election campaign rally for pro-democracy legislative candidate Au Nok-hin three years ago. The pair were charged with engaging in corrupt conduct by violating an ordinance against providing food, drink or entertainment to influence voters.
Prosecutors conceded that there is no evidence showing that Wong had received monetary rewards from Au, nor that Au asked Wong to urge voters to cast ballots for him.
"After considering the relevant factors, including the overall circumstances of the case, the relatively lesser criminalities of the defendants, backgrounds of the defendants and their attitudes towards the charge, the Department of Justice agreed to deal with the case by way of bind-over procedure and offered no evidence to the charge against the duo," the ICAC said in a statement.
Appearing before reporters outside the court, Wong simply sang the Cantopop classic "Asking Me" to sum up his case.
"No matter if I have a hundred rights, or a thousand wrongs, I will bear the consequences wholeheartedly. In face of everything in the world, notwithstanding how things would be, I will preserve my true self with all my heart," he recited, urging fellow Hong Kongers to "continue to sing and hang on."
Under the terms of the deal, Wong must avoid upsetting public harmony and maintain good behavior, as well as refrain from further election offenses over the next year and a half. Au, however, remains behind bars over an illegal assembly charge. The former lawmaker also faces trial on a subversion charge under the Beijing-imposed national security law that took effect in June 2020.
In another court hearing on Thursday, the city's judiciary granted bail to the vice chairwoman of the group that organizes annual commemorations of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
Chow Hang-tung is charged with "inciting others to knowingly join an unauthorized assembly" related to the vigil this year, which was banned by the government, ostensibly due to the pandemic. She has been in custody since her second arrest on June 30 and was previously denied bail.
But the high court granted Chow bail this time, on the condition that she pay HK$50,000, submit her passport and remain in the territory. She is obliged to report to the police every Saturday night, while her family must pay another HK$50,000 as a deposit.
When the judge read out the decision, Chow's supporters cheered, drawing an immediate rebuke from court officials.
Being granted bail in nonviolent cases was once the norm in Hong Kong, before the national security law era. But a number of pro-democracy activists remain detained pending trial.
Chow thanked all those who supported her, telling reporters after she stepped out from the court building, that "I am not under any illusion that I can escape jail forever." She faces two separate sentencings in October and November.
To be behind bars under this political environment "is a lesson that all Hong Kong activists have to learn, if you are to continue to fight for democracy and freedom," she said.
The bail approval marks a rare positive development for Chow's organization, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which has been under severe political pressure since the security law kicked in. Its chairman and vice chairman, Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho Chun-yan, were sentenced to 20 and 18 months in prison, respectively, for their participation in an unauthorized assembly in October 2019, when the Chinese Communist Party celebrated 70 years in power.
The alliance ceased virtually all major activities as of the end of last month, laying off all staff and accepting the resignations of most of its standing committee members. The committee once had 20 members. Now it is down to seven, including two who are behind bars.
"To be freed at this very difficult time in Hong Kong, I feel that it imposes on me a greater sense of responsibility to continue to speak up and to tell the world what's really happening," Chow said. With a number of activists dropping out or fleeing the territory, she vowed "to expose this facade of stability imposed by the national security law and other crackdowns."
Additional reporting by Kenji Kawase.