From correspondents in Hong Kong 16-06-2006 From: Agence France-Presse
AN Australian lawyer has been jailed in Hong Kong after being convicted of attempting to leak the identity of a witness in a protection program to the media.
Kevin Egan, 60, one of Hong Kong's most well-known and feisty barristers, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for attempting to disclose the identity of Becky Wong, who was in the custody of an anti-graft body.
The conviction was based on the testimony of a reporter from Hong Kong's leading English language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, who identified Egan as the source of her story in which Wong was named.
The journalist, Magdalen Chow, who was granted immunity from prosecution, testified that Egan had not directly revealed the witness's identity to her, but she had inferred it from his words.
District Court Chief Judge Barnabas Fung said that because Egan had failed to tell the journalist not to report on the case despite knowing there was a gag order, he had intentionally disclosed the identity of the witness.
"This is a direct assault on the criminal justice system," the judge said.
Egan, an Australian who has worked in Hong Kong for 26 years and is a former government prosecutor, looked tired and grim-faced when the sentence was handed down.
He has a reputation for passionately fighting – and often winning – cases on behalf of defendants charged by the anti-graft body.
Egan's lawyer, John McNamara, would not comment after the case.
"If it wasn't for the media, we wouldn't be here," he said as he was leaving the court room.
Chow agreed to testify after officers from the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) launched high-profile raids on the offices of six newspapers that sparked an outcry in the southern Chinese territory.
The media, politicians, legal experts and a human rights group all condemned the raids, which they said infringed on the freedom of the press.
Egan is the second vice-president of Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents' Club. The club would not comment, saying it was looking into the case.
Witness Becky Wong and former boss Derek Wong were arrested in July 2004 for their alleged roles in market manipulation.
She later agreed to enter the witness protection program offered by the ICAC.
Derek Wong, his lover Mandy Chui and solicitor Andrew Lam were also jailed for their roles in the case.
The court heard that Egan, who had been hired by Derek Wong's lover, tried to secure the release of the witness by launching court proceedings after he received instructions that she was being held against her will by the ICAC.
The prosecution said Egan, along with Wong, Chui and Lam, tried to prevent the suspect from co-operating with the ICAC.