Five men accused of attacking protesters and commuters at a Hong Kong metro station in 2019 have been convicted of rioting and wounding offences, while a sixth defendant was cleared of wrongdoing during a landmark outbreak of violence during that year’s anti-government protests.

721 Yuen long mob attack white shirts wife of Tang Ying-bun
The wife of defendant Tang Ying-bun (right). Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Anthony Chau, senior assistant director of public prosecutions, told the District Court during trial that six defendants were part of a group of over 100 men wearing white shirts who stormed the Yuen Long MTR station on July 21, 2019. The defendants included Wong Chi-wing, Wong Ying-kit, Tang Wai-sum, Ng Wai-nam, Tang Ying-Bun, and Choi Lap-ki – all aged between 40 and 61.

The group of white-clad men beat up train passengers and other people in the station with wooden rods, bamboo sticks with the China flag attached while hurling other objects, the court heard.

All but the first defendant – Wong Chi-wing – were found guilty on Friday on all counts by District Court Judge Eddie Yip. The charges included rioting, conspiracy to wound with intent and wounding with intent. The five men were remanded in custody as Wong walked free from the court before the end of the hearing.

Two other defendants, Lam Koon-leung, 48, and Lam Kai-ming, 43, had been in custody after they pleaded guilty to rioting, but denied a charge on wounding with intent. The latter was dropped by the prosecution after their plea.

Outcry against police

Dubbed the “721 Yuen Long Attacks,” the event was a critical point in the 2019 protests which heightened public criticism of the city’s police over their lack of response to the incident. Critics said police inaction had enabled the attack to happen as two uniformed officers were seen walking away from the MTR station when the it began. Officers only arrived on the scene 39 minutes later, despite hundreds of calls made to the police emergency hotline as the event unfolded live on the news.

721 Yuen long mob attack Ng Wai-nam family
A family member of Ng Wai-nam was seen walking out of the courthouse. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

The six pleaded not guilty to the charges in February. Five were each charged with two counts of the offences, with the exception of Tang Wai-sum.

Tang, who was the head of the Yuen Long village Pat Heung, was said by Judge Yip to be a “leader” of the white-shirted attackers. He faced a total of four offences including two counts of rioting, one of conspiracy to wound and one of wounding with intent.

721 Yuen long mob attack white shirts wife of Tang Ying-bun
The wife of defendant Tang Ying-bun (right). The woman in red splashed water at reporters as they exited the court house. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

In a trial that lasted 23 days, and heard evidence from 16 witnesses and victims — many of whom suffered severe injuries as a result of beatings — testified under an anonymity order in a case which centred around events that lasted from around 10:40pm until well after midnight, near Yuen Long MTR station, Yoho Mall, and Long Wo Road in the heart of Yuen Long.

The prosecution initially described it as a “violent clash” between men in white and others wearing black — a narrative promoted by pro-government groups — but Judge Yip raised questions over such a characterisation, to which the prosecution clarified that the attack was initiated by those wearing white.

While nobody was arrested on the scene, the prosecution said investigators were able to identify the six defendants based on videos and identical objects found at their homes afterwards. Three of the defendants were identified by witnesses during police line-ups.

Wan Chai government tower district court eastern magistrate
Wan Chai government tower. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Delivering his verdict, Judge Yip said that the first defendant, Wong Chi-wing, 54, was acquitted as he did not look similar to the person shown in videos submitted by the prosecution, and the white t-shirt found in his home by investigators had different markings from the one worn by the suspected attacker in the video. While police found the same pair of yellow and black sneakers worn by the attacker at the defendant’s home, the court accepted it was possible he was keeping the shoes on behalf of someone else, although in doing so he drew suspicion to himself. Wong was acquitted of all charges and was allowed to leave the court early.

Leader and enablers

The fifth defendant, Tang Wai-sum, 60, clearly took a leadership role among the white-shirts near him at the MTR station, the judge said, as he was seen pointing with his hand, giving instructions other men in white t-shirts next to him, and they were seen responding accordingly.

Wan Chai government tower district court eastern magistrate
A lone protest regular Alexandra Wong. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

The sixth defendant, Ng, 57, and the eighth defendant Choi, 40, were the main offenders, the judge said. Ng had clearly hit a man with a wooden rod in continuous motion, he said, and his testimony claiming he acted out of self-defence was “dishonest and full of nonsense.”

Choi was without a doubt the same person seen attacking others “ferociously like a devil” in the video, the judge said.

The second defendant Wong Ying-kit, 48, and the seventh defendant Tang Ying-bun, 61, were both enablers of the attack, Judge Yip said. Wong admitted he was on the scene after investigators found at his home a polo shirt and a pair of shorts identical to those he wore in the videos of the attack.

Wan Chai government tower district court eastern magistrate
Wan Chai government tower. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Judge Yip also noted that Wong was being “unreasonable” when he shouted at former legislator Lam Cheuk-ting and accused him of causing chaos, even though he was seen pampering those nearby by saying police would soon arrive. Yip said it was clear Wong encouraged others to wound others with intent as he shouted insults at those wearing black, but ignored provocation by those wearing white.

The judge ruled that three of the defendants “shared common purpose with intent to attack people wearing black.”

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.