Former Hong Kong University (HKU) student union president Billy Fung has been acquitted Thursday of criminally intimidating governing council chair Arthur Li during a council meeting protest last January.
But the 24-year-old graduate faces a possible jail term after being convicted of the alternative charge of acting in a disorderly manner by the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts.
He pleaded guilty earlier to attempting to force his way into the school building where the meeting was held, and damaging the front door of the building.
Fung was accused of threatening Li during the protest by shouting as he was next to Li: “Don’t let him go! Don’t let Arthur Li go! Kill him! Kill him!” Though the Cantonese phrase for “kill” can also be interpreted as “knock down,” the court adopted the former interpretation.
Li told the court that he was scared when Fung shouted the words, and that Fung was the “mastermind” behind the “riot.” He said two men pulled his right arm and swore at him, and added that he believed the duo attempted to pull him out and attack him.
The defence challenged the credibility of Li’s evidence earlier, as Li admitted that he “looked down upon” Fung for previously publicising the contents of Council meetings. Li also described Fung’s character as “questionable.” But he denied that he hated the student.
Magistrate Ko Wai-hung said Thursday that Li was an honest and trustworthy witness. He said it would not be impossible for Li to make out Fung’s words in a chaotic, noisy scene.
He also dismissed the argument that Fung was merely acting emotionally because Fung repeatedly uttered the words.
But the magistrate acquitted Fung on the basis that he could not be sure that the words “kill him” – instead of “kill you” – were meant to threaten Li himself.
Ko found him guilty of the alternative charge of disorderly conduct on the basis that the words were “meant to be a call to the crowd surrounding Li to stop him from leaving the scene by force.”
“By uttering these words, [Fung] must have had the intent to provoke a breach of the peace, and what he did was likely to cause a breach of the peace,” Ko said in a press summary.
Another student convicted
Meanwhile, another student union member Colman Li Fung-kei, 21, was convicted of obstructing public officers in the execution of duty. The offence carries a maximum penalty of HK$1,000 fine and six months behind bars.
Li was accused of obstructing a paramedic, preventing him from reaching HKU Council member Leonie Ki Man-fung during the protest.
Ki told the court earlier that she felt as if she was being “held hostage” by the protesters.
The dispute surrounded the identification evidence. On Thursday, Ko held that a key witness correctly identified Li.
Both Fung and Li chose not to give evidence or call upon witnesses during the trial.
They were briefly remanded in custody, but were allowed bail after the parties discussed sentencing in the afternoon session. Ko will hand down a sentence on September 21.
‘Justice will prevail’
Fung said on the eve of his verdict that the conviction would “crush” his dream of becoming a secondary school teacher.
He said he was probably the first HKU student union leader to have a criminal record “for defending institutional and academic autonomy.”
He also expressed despair at the prosecutions facing many young people for their activism. “Our experience of government oppression will become the memory of our generation,” he said.
“But I still believe justice will prevail. History will remember the people who fought and made sacrifices for Hong Kong.”
Dozens of police officers were stationed outside the court. A group of young people wearing T-shirts that said “HKU Students’ Union” were stopped and asked to produce their identification documents by officers before the hearing.
Localist activists Yau Wai-ching, Baggio Leung, Ray Wong and Alvin Cheng were among around 50 members of the public who attended Thursday’s hearing.