A 29-year-old man has been convicted of rioting and sentenced to two years and four months in prison over a protest in Sha Tin in 2019. The judge presiding over the case described the demonstrations and unrest as an “unequal civil war.”

The protest at New Town Plaza on July 14, 2019. File Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Lai Chun-lok, a monumental mason, was accused of throwing a water bottle at police during an anti-extradition law protest at New Town Plaza, a shopping centre in Sha Tin, on July 14, 2019, Stand News reported. He was sentenced by District Judge Ernest Lin at the District Court on Monday.

Protests erupted in Hong Kong in June 2019 over a since-axed bill that would have allowed suspects in the city to be extradited to mainland China. Several Hong Kong shopping malls became scenes of unrest as protesters sought refuge from tear gas and water cannon deployed by riot police outside.

New Town Plaza, which is connected to Sha Tin MTR station, saw chaotic scenes after police in full riot gear entered the premises on July 14. One police officer was filmed being beaten by protesters, while another’s finger was reportedly bitten. A total of 37 individuals were arrested in the area that day.

A ‘rioter,’ not a ‘lone wolf’

When giving his verdict, Lin said that video footage presented during the trial showed Lai present among a group of protesters before throwing a water bottle at the police. He was then seen waving at others before disappearing into the crowd and exiting the mall.

Lai’s gesture showed he had a target in mind when he threw the bottle, Lin said. He also appeared to move in coordination with others and therefore was not acting as a “lone wolf.”

Lin ruled that the man seen in the footage submitted to court was Lai based on his haircut and sandals. Lai admitted to police under caution that he was present in Sha Tin that day and was the man in the video, although he rejected allegations that he had breached the law.

A protest at the Sha Tin New Town Plaza on July 14, 2019. File Photo: HKFP.

The protesters acted with the common purpose of resisting law enforcement or expressing discontent, Lin said. Lai had acted with the same purpose and therefore was a participant in the riot that disrupted social order, the judge added.

When describing the 2019 unrest, Lin said the protests evolved from peaceful demonstrations to acts of violence, saying that it “almost became an unequal civil war,” Stand News reported.

File Photo: May James.

During mitigation, Lai’s defence counsel argued that he was aged 27 at the time of an event that lasted no longer than one-minute, Ming Pao reported. Lai had worked in a monumental masonry workshop for 13 years after quitting secondary school as a teenager and displayed a hardworking spirit, according to the newspaper.

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.

Selina Cheng

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.