A Hong Kong court has convicted four protesters of taking part in an illegal assembly near Sha Tin Police Station three years ago, but acquitted the defendants of other charges after the judge questioned the way police handled evidence.

A total of seven people were accused of taking part in an illegal assembly outside Sha Tin Police Station on August 12, 2019, possessing walkie-talkies without a license, possessing offensive weapons in a public place, or assaulting a police officer. The weapons were in question were laser pointers.

Kowloon City Magistrates' Courts
Kowloon City Magistrates’ Courts. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Au Ka-wai, Li Tsz-hou, Yip Shing-fu, Tsoi Shing-chi, Anson Ho, and Lam Ka-wai appeared in front of Magistrate Stephanie Tsui at the Kowloon City Magistrates’ Courts on Friday. Another defendant in the case pleaded guilty to participating in an illegal assembly last year and was sentenced to four months and two weeks in prison last July.

DefendantsParticipation in an illegal assemblyPossessing walkie-talkies without a licence Possessing laser pointers Assaulting a police officer
D1: Au Ka-waiConvictedAcquitted AcquittedAcquitted
D2: Li Tsz-houAcquittedn.a.n.a.n.a.
D3: Yip Shing-fuConvictedAcquittedn.a.n.a.
D5: Tsoi Shing-chiConvicted n.a.n.a.n.a.
D6: Anson HoConvictedn.a.n.a.n.a.
D7: Lam Ka-wai Acquitted n.a.Acquitted n.a.

Tsui found Li not guilty after ruling that the police officer, who was the fifth prosecution witness, “did not have a considerable” understanding of Li to identify the defendant from video clips.

The magistrate also said that there were “multiple contradictions” in the officer’s testimony as to the direction of Li’s escape route, and thus the court could not rely on the officer’s testimony in court.

Tsui also acquitted Lam of taking part in the illegal assembly on grounds that there were “insoluble contradictions” between a video clip and the testimony of the prosecution’s 9th and 10th witnesses – both police officers involved in Lam’s arrest.

While the ninth witness claimed that the pair were the only two police officers were at the scene of the arrest, a video presented in court showed that there were four police officers, the magistrate said.

The 10th witness also claimed that two laser pointers were found in the trouser pocket of Lam after she was searched, and that the laser pointers were put inside the defendant’s backpack and carried by the officer.

sha tin police station protest
File photo: Protesters barricade Sha Tin Police Station.

However, the magistrate said that the clip showed that the defendant was not searched at the scene of the arrest, and that Lam was the one carrying the backpack after she was arrested.

Protests erupted in June 2019 over a since-axed extradition bill. They escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. Demonstrators demanded an independent probe into police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.” 

‘Questionable’ evidence chain

The magistrate also found the three defendants charged with allegedly possessing walkie-talkies without a licence or laser pointers not guilty after “questioning whether the police handling of evidence was appropriate or whether the evidence chain was intact.”

During the trial, the prosecution’s 15th witness – the police officer in charge of handling evidence – admitted that a new “yellow label” had been filled in for cases where the old label, which contained details of where and when the evidence was collected, was broken. The label also contained the signature of the police officer who collected the evidence.

The prosecution witness also admitted that the old label was thrown away, and that there were “faults” in how evidence in the case was handled.

The magistrate ruled on Friday that the court “cannot reliably accept” evidence handled in such a manner, and that she thought there was already “irreparable doubt” in the charges.

august 18 china extradition (10) (Copy)
Laser pointers were commonly used during the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests and unrest. File photo: May James/HKFP.

As for Au’s charge of assaulting a police officer, the magistrate said that there might be a possibility that the police officer’s chin was injured by how the helmet was worn. She said that, even if the injury was caused by Au, it was possible that he injured the police officer accidentally while trying to maintain balance as he fell to the ground.

Awaiting sentencing on remand

After announcing her judgement, Tsui ordered the four convicted defendants to be remanded in custody for two weeks while awaiting sentencing, and rejected all four defendants’ bail applications.

People in the public gallery waved at the defendants as they stepped away from the dock, and a woman bust into tears in the courtroom and had to be comforted by others after the court session ended.

Au, Yip, Tsoi, and Ho will appear in court again on January 28.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.