A Hong Kong court has acquitted social worker Hui Lai-ming of deliberately obstructing police during a demonstration in Admiralty last September, with the magistrate ruling the police witness “unreliable.”

At the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, the general executive of the Hong Kong Social Workers’ General Union (HKSWGU) stood accused of pushing officer Chong Tik-long outside Pacific Place mall and caused him to fall during a march on September 29, 2019.

Hui Lai-ming
Hui Lai-ming speaking to reporters outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on December 16, 2020. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

On that day, Hong Kong demonstrators took to the streets and displayed national flags of multiple countries, with a banner reading “Warning! Democracy and human rights under attack!” Rallies were held in more than 40 cities globally in protest of totalitarianism and in solidarity with pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

According to local media, Magistrate May Chung found the 50-year-old social worker not guilty after she dismissed officer Chong’s testimony as “unreliable” because it did not match the video evidence. The differences included where the officer first saw Hui and the location of the defendant.

Chong testified earlier and said Hui was emotional and chanted “don’t beat up the kids” when she approached the police and arrested protesters at the scene. He said the social worker ignored his warnings and attempted to get in touch with the arrestees.

september 29 protest china extradition (26) (Copy) flag human rights
Demonstrators in Hong Kong take to the streets in protest of totalitarianism on September 29, 2019. Photo: May James/HKFP.

After reviewing the clips, the court ruled it was an accident when Chong toppled over twice, adding that Hui had been cooperative with no intention of assaulting the officer.

Hui originally faced one count of assaulting police, but the prosecution changed the charge before the trial. The defence had objected to the amendment, saying it was unfair to the defendant.

Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Hui said she was pleased with the judgement, but described the prosecution process as “torture,” as she was frustrated and scared about potential imprisonment.

“For us, social workers, we always have to remember to preserve justice,” Hui said. “When I heard the result, a tear dropped, maybe that’s a happy tear.”

Jackie Chen
Jackie Chen of the Battlefield Social Workers group being pepper sprayed by police. Photo: inmediahk.net, via CC 2.0.

Hui is a member of the Battlefield Social Workers group, which volunteered to monitor police behaviour, liaise between protesters and the force, as well as provide emotional support at demonstrations.

Some frontline social workers were arrested and prosecuted in relation to the citywide protests last year. La Ka-tung, 24, was convicted and jailed for obstructing police work at a Yuen Long demonstration last July. He is currently on bail pending appeal against his conviction.

Another social worker Jackie Chen is facing an appeal by the Department of Justice (DoJ) against a court’s decision in September to drop the rioting charge against her. The seven other defendants in her case were cleared of rioting in a protest on August 31 last year, but their acquittals have been challenged by the DoJ as well.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.