Hong Kong activist Max Chung has been jailed for 16 months after he pleaded guilty to organising an unauthorised assembly to “reclaim” Yuen Long following a mob attack in July 2019.

District Judge Amanda Woodcock put Chung behind bars on Wednesday, two days after the 42-year-old pleaded guilty to organising a banned demonstration in his home district on July 27, 2019.

Max Chung.

The defendant, whose legal name is Allan Chung Kin-ping, had applied for police approval for the procession, but it was rejected on the grounds of public safety concerns at the height of the extradition bill unrest.

The “Reclaim Yuen Long” demonstration was to protest what Chung saw as a terrorist attack by more than 100 rod-wielding men on July 21, when citizens, commuters, protesters and journalists were assaulted indiscriminately inside and near the Yuen Long MTR station. The incident left 45 injured, including former legislator Lam Cheuk-ting. So far, seven people have been imprisoned for the assaults.

‘Tinderbox situation’

When handing down the sentence, Woodcock described the atmosphere in Yuen Long in the days after the mob attack as a “tinderbox situation,” with the banned demonstration a potential source of violence.

The judge said she did not believe that Chung could not see emotions were running high and that the large number of demonstrators could spark violence given the specific circumstances in Yuen Long that week.

Woodcock rejected most of the mitigation arguments submitted by barrister Candy Fong on Monday. The defence counsel had said that others had applied to the police for permission to hold the event, and some influential public figures had indicated they would show up in Yuen Long that day.

But only Chung held press conferences, during which he used “provocative and inflammatory” language and “covertly” asked people to participate in the unauthorised procession, the judge said.

“[Chung] made a conscious decision to break the law… actions have consequences for everyone… ,” Woodcock said.

Protest scene in Yuen Long on July 27, 2019. Photo: May James/HKFP.

The judge also disagreed with the defence’s submission that the court should not blame Chung for violent acts that took place adjacent to the demonstration route he proposed.

Woodcock said public assemblies could be “fluid” and it was “overly rigid” to only consider the violence that occurred along the route.

No intentional delay

The court dismissed the plea that it was “unfair” for Chung to be prosecuted more than two years after the demonstration was held. The prosecution said it had taken time to look into a high volume of evidence, and Woodcock said relevant parties faced a heavy workload.

“Two years was not a very long time… there was no intentional delay. More importantly, I see no prejudice…” the judge said.

Protest scene in Yuen Long on July 27, 2019. Photo: May James/HKFP.

The starting point of Chung’s sentence was 24 months in prison. It was reduced to 16 months owing to his guilty plea, which Woodcock described as Chung’s best mitigation. Other personal and individual mitigation pleas “did not carry much weight,” the court ruled.

During Monday’s plea hearing, the prosecution said Chung publicly reiterated the route of the procession and encouraged people to visit Yuen Long despite not having secured permission from the police to hold the demonstration.

Violence ensued when demonstrators spilled in to main carriageways and blocked roads, prosecutor Wilson Lam said, while there were multiple standoffs with the police. Chung was said to have liaised with officers at the scene as the applicant of the demonstration and expressed gratitude to those who showed up.

Hong Kong protesters photographed in Yuen Long on July 27, 2021. Photo: May James/HKFP.

Chung was arrested the day of the protest but police did not press charges. He was apprehended again last August and has been remanded in custody since.

Chung’s defence had asked for a lenient sentence, saying the defendant was naïve with no experience of organising a public assembly. Counsel Fong said there was no evidence beyond reasonable doubt that her client was the “leader of the pack.”

The activist originally stood accused of knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly as well, but the prosecution did not proceed with the charge.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.