A Hong Kong court has sentenced 13 people to between 42 and 48 months in jail over rioting charges relating to a protest in Sheung Wan on July 28, 2019.

District Judge Ernest Lin on Wednesday called the day’s events a “bloody carnival” and said the defendants, now aged between 21 to 34, had been influenced by “forces with ulterior motives,” local media reported.

West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts
West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Two other defendants – aged 17 and 21 during the protest – were sentenced to a training centre and a detention centre, respectively.

Lin handed down sentences to the 15 on Wednesday morning at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. Fourteen had been found guilty of rioting on December 30 last year, while one admitted to the offence earlier.

Lin said that although there was no evidence to suggest that events had been meticulously planned, he believed that multiple groups were behind the riot, as some protesters were handing out supplies and communicating to others with hand gestures.

He also said he believed the fact that there were no serious injuries or casualties from the day was thanks to the strict discipline of police operations rather than restraint from protesters, as he said protesters were shouting insults and pointing laser beams to provoke officers.

july 28 sheung wan china extradition tear gas
The Sheung Wan protest on July 28, 2019. File photo: May James/HKFP.

According to reports, Lin said protesters had deepened the divide within society, while their pursuit of democracy and freedom had become a form of “despotism,” strangling the space for peaceful and rational deliberation and thus limiting Hong Kong’s liberties.

“Under the hood of self-proclaimed noble ideas, [they] sacrificed the freedom and property of other people,” Lin said, adding that protesters had brought immense disturbance to the public and damaged the city’s image.

‘Forces with ulterior motives’

Local media reported that the judge said he understood that some of the younger defendants were influenced by the heated social environment at the time.

“Forces with ulterior motives, irresponsible opinion leaders, self-proclaimed teachers of the young, and spectators who provided material and moral support, [that’s why] they participated in this bloody carnival.” Lin said.

july 28 may james china extradition best of tear gas
Riot police in the Sheung Wan protest on July 28, 2019. File photo: May James/HKFP.

One of the defendants said during mitigation that the incident was ignited by police violence. However, Lin said her statement did not match what happened in the case. “Either she is living in a parallel space, or she is arguing without reason,” the judge said.

Lin said he was unwilling to hand down longer sentences because he thought the defendants’ lack of worldly experience, the recklessness of their actions, and their difficulties of accepting existing systems and values were “also motivation for the improvement of society.”

He said it was hard to say the defendants were “unforgivable,” as they were courageous to pursue their ideals, but he said such ideals were not pretexts for acting without restraint.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.