Two Hong Kong teenagers have been sentenced to a detention centre rather than prison for possessing petrol bombs in the aftermath of the 2019 protests, after the judge said this would cause less damage to their lives.

District Court. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Mok Hei-yeung and Chan Hung-fai, who were both 16 at the time of the offence in February 2020, appeared before Judge Ernest Lin at District Court on Thursday morning.

They had earlier pleaded guilty to possessing articles with intent to destroy or damage property, while Mok also pleaded guilty to arson.

Between February 3 and 5 in 2020, Mok, Chan and four co-defendants rented a hotel room on Nathan Road in Yau Ma Tei, where police found 10 petrol bombs as well as petrol, sulphuric acid, towels, lighters, a funnel and other tools such as hammers and a wrench.

Chan left the hotel on February 4 and never returned. Mok and the other four later built a barricade at a nearby crossroads and threw five petrol bombs to set it alight, damaging a section of road.

‘Keen to continue study’

Defence lawyers cited both defendants’ results in this year’s university entry exams.

Mok passed five subjects, according to his lawyer Lawrence Lau, who said it showed he was trying to “start anew.” Chan got a pass in four out of five subjects and was “keen to continue studying and hopes to improve his life in the future,” his lawyer said.

A Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination centre. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Judge Lin said the case “clearly originated from the aftermath of the social incidents in 2019.”

“The defendants and other people – without careful thinking – believed that by sabotage alone, they could make the government lose its authority and make others join them in damaging society and forcing reform, as well as overthrowing the current political structure,” Lin said.

But these people “did not have a clear idea on how to reform or construct” society.

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.” 

District Judge Ernest Lin. File photo: Judiciary.

Lin said society had been gradually calming down in early 2020, but the defendants were “again provoking others with grievances against society to copy their actions.”

Although Mok and Chan were only 16 at the time, Lin said this was no excuse for their actions. But people who saw themselves as opinion leaders or mentors, or cheered on the 2019 protests, should bear most responsibility.

Such people would not break the law, while the young who “did not know the dangers of the world” suffered the consequences. “[The young people] cannot be deemed as rioters, but they did what rioters would do, so they should pay the same price,” Lin said.

A protester throws a petrol bomb during a protest in 2019. File photo: Studio Incendo.

In the end, Lin decided to sentence both Mok and Chan to a detention centre instead of prison. The period of detention will depend on their behaviour. For those aged between 14 and 20, the minimum period of detention is one month and the maximum is six months,

The judge said their case was already two years ago and they had been detained for more than two months since their first appearance in court. They now also had criminal records.

The judge said the detention centre order would confine the two for a shorter period than imprisonment and would not cause too much damage to their life trajectories.

Co-defendant found guilty

Lam Tin-wing, a co-defendant of Mok and Chan, also appeared before Lin on Thursday morning.

She faced the same accusations as Mok and had earlier pleaded not guilty. The judge ruled that Lam, who was 20 at the time of the offence, was guilty of both charges.

Lam, a waitress, said she was simply accompanying her boyfriend in the hotel room and did not know other defendants in this case or understand what they were doing.

2019 protests and unrest. File photo: May James/HKFP.

However, Lin ruled that it was impossible for anyone in the room not to realise that people were producing petrol bombs. He said Lam had helped others to buy the materials from nearby shops and went with them when they committed arson.

Although there was no direct evidence of Lam’s actions at the arson scene, Lin said she shared a common purpose with the others.

Lam will return to court for sentencing on October 12 pending a background report. Her boyfriend earlier pleaded guilty and was jailed for four years and two months.

Support HKFP  |  Code of Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.

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.