A teenager who was among the 12 Hongkongers caught by the mainland Chinese coastguard while trying to escape to Taiwan by speedboat in 2020 has pleaded guilty in his 2019 protest-related case.

Cheng Tsz-ho, now aged 19, appeared before Judge Douglas Yau at the District Court on Tuesday. He pleaded guilty to being in possession of items with the intent to destroy or damage property, but not guilty to the conspiracy to commit arson charge.

District Court in Wan Chai. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Cheng Tsz-ho and three other defendants – Liu Tsz-man, Li Wai-lung and Cheng Chun – stood accused of conspiring to commit arson with intent to endanger life in September 2019, while Hong Kong was in the midst of months-long protests and unrest. They all faced an alternative charge of possessing items with the intent to destroy or damage property.

For the alternative charge, the defendants stood accused of possessing items including more than 20 glass bottles, inflammable liquids such as isopropyl alcohol, ethanol and petrol, chemicals such as magnesium powder and aluminium powder, as well as more than a dozen lighters.

A fifth defendant, Tang Kai-yin, is currently serving a three-year jail term in mainland China for orchestrating the attempted escape of the 12 Hongkongers.

A minivan believed to be carrying one of the eight Hongkongers arrives in Tin Shui Wai Police Station on March 22, 2021. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

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 the police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.” 

Liu, 19, and Cheng Chun, 33, submitted guilty pleas on Monday.

Yau adjourned the case to Wednesday, when Li is expected to enter his plea. Li and Cheng Chun remained on bail, while Liu and Cheng Tsz-ho were remanded in custody.

Conspiring to commit arsonPossessing things with intent to damage property
Cheng ChunPleaded not guiltyPleaded guilty
Cheng Tsz-hoPleaded not guiltyPleaded guilty
Li Wai-lungNo plea yetNo plea yet
Liu Tsz-manPleaded not guiltyPleaded guilty

The pair have been in detention for more than a year since they returned to Hong Kong. Liu, who was a minor at the time of the unsuccessful escape, was not charged by the Chinese authorities, while Cheng was jailed for seven months in the mainland for crossing the border illegally.

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Almond Li

Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.