A Hong Kong student has been sentenced to six weeks in prison over taking part in an illegal assembly in January last year to protest against entry restrictions at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

Shatin Law Courts Building. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

Cho Tak-hei appeared in front of Acting Principal Magistrate David Cheung at the Shatin Magistrates’ Courts on Friday afternoon.

The 22-year-old stood accused of participating in an illegal assembly on January 11, 2021, together with Leung Yat-hei, Ian Leung and former CUHK students’ union president Owen Au.

Cho was the only defendant to plead guilty when the four last appeared in court on August 19. He has been kept in remand since.

Cho’s lawyer urged the court to hand down a suspended sentence as Cho had only been present at the illegal assembly for less than 20 seconds and had not played a leading role. There were no offensive weapons found on Cho, and the assembly had ended without police intervention, the lawyer added.

The lawyer said that Cho had already delayed his studies at CUHK for a year because of the offence.

Photo: CUHK.

Nevertheless, the magistrate ruled that a suspended sentence would not be appropriate as violence was involved in the illegal assembly and one of the prosecution’s witnesses had been injured.

Cheung said the protesters had, to some degree, planned their participation, too.

After considering the relatively short time span of the assembly in question and the comparatively light degree of violence involved, Cheung ruled that the starting point of the sentence should be nine weeks in prison.

As Cho pleaded guilty to the offence, his jail time was deducted by one-third.

Dozens of the defendant’s family members and friends were in the public gallery, with some shouting “hang in there” as Cho was taken away at the end of the court session.

The incident

CUHK began to implement entry restrictions on campus after it was the scene of intense clashes between protesters and police in November 2019.

Security measures, which gradually increased in the months since, included checking the identity cards of students and teachers, and registering visitors’ information as they arrived.

Student activists protect themselves with umbrellas on the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong on November 12, 2019. Photo: Lokman Tsui.

According to the case details read out in court in the earlier hearing, in January last year Cho was among a group of around 10 people, some of whom shouted “do not show them your identity cards” near the checkpoint at the campus entrance next to Exit A of the University MTR station.

During the minute-long incident, eggs and white powder were thrown at the security guards, and Cho pushed over barricades.

Cho had denied hurling the powder and said he had waited for others’ signal to push over the barricades.

Cho’s three co-defendants will appear in court on September 22.

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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.