A Hong Kong court has adjourned the sentencing of four men in a 2019 protest-related case – including two who tried to flee to Taiwan by speedboat – after learning that two suffered mental health issues.

Cheng Chun, Cheng Tsz-ho, Li Wai-lung and Liu Tsz-man appeared in front of Judge Douglas Yau at the District Court on Tuesday after pleading guilty to possessing items with the intent to destroy or damage property last week.

Wan Chai Law Courts Building. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The four were accused of being in possession of over 20 glass bottles, inflammable liquids and metal powders, as well as over a dozen lighters, in September 2019 amid citywide protests and unrest.

They were acquitted of conspiring to commit arson with intent to endanger life.

A fifth defendant, Tang Kai-yin, is currently serving time in mainland China over his role in orchestrating an escape attempt for 12 Hongkongers. Cheng Tsz-ho and Li were among the 12 aboard a speedboat headed for Taiwan when it was intercepted by the mainland Chinese coastguard in 2020.

Mitigation

Yau said on Tuesday that while his original intention was to sentence the defendants that day, he thought he should hear their psychological and background reports to be “prudent” and ensure “fair and appropriate” sentences were handed down.

The judge said he reached his decision after learning about Cheng Chun and Li’s mental health issues in their written mitigations, as well as considering the age of the other two defendants, who were just 17 when they first appeared in court two years ago.

Cheng Chun’s legal counsel said the client has suffered depression since 2012.

A banner in the Chinese University of Hong Kong calling for support to save the 12 Hongkongers detained in China. Photo: Studio Incendo.

The lawyer said Cheng “would have had a bright future” as a fashion designer, having already been featured in various magazines and newspapers. Cheng would not give up on his career after serving his sentence, the lawyer said.

The court also heard that Li has suffered from an adjustment disorder, a condition that affected his ability to successfully carry out or complete tasks.

Cheng Tsz-ho’s lawyer asked if his client could be assessed for alternative sentencing to imprisonment such as training centres, with regard to the defendant’s age and the fact that he had been detained for 21 months in both mainland China and Hong Kong.

Yau said that similarly aged defendants in related cases had been sentenced to prison and “the court does not have much room” to decide otherwise, but added that age would play a part in sentencing.

Liu’s lawyer said the defendant hoped to serve his sentence as soon as possible as he had also spent 21 months in custody in mainland China and Hong Kong. The lawyer said Liu hoped the judge could grant him the full discount of a third of his sentence as he had pleaded guilty “at the first instance.”

The case was adjourned to July 16 as the court will wait for the psychological and background reports of all four defendants and possible follow-up mitigation submissions.

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Peter Lee

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.