A Hong Kong woman has been convicted of assaulting a police officer and possessing an offensive weapon in a public place in connection with a 2019 protest.

Police officers outside Mong Kok Police Station in 2019. File photo: May James/HKFP.

Pong Lai-ying, 29, was found guilty of the two charges at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Monday morning. The defendant, who is seven months pregnant, became emotional and burst into tears after magistrate Jeffrey Sze handed down the verdict, according to The Witness.

Pong, a waiter, stood accused of throwing a soda can at a police officer’s back as protesters gathered outside a police station in Mong Kok on September 2, 2019. That day, demonstrations took place across the city as the unrest – sparked by a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to mainland China for trial – entered its third month.

Police also found laser pens and protective sleeves in her possession upon her arrest.

A protest in 2019. File photo: May James/HKFP.

Pong will face sentencing on November 28.

Initial reason for arrest

The defence cast doubt on whether Pong had thrown the soda can at an officer, questioning why she was arrested on suspicion of taking part in an unlawful assembly instead of assaulting a police officer.

Sze said unlawful assembly was the more commonly used offence for such arrests, and police were unable to locate the colleague who was hit by the soda can. The situation’s circumstances suggested that she was participating in the gathering, Sze added, so the initial reason for arrest was not to be criticised and did not affect the credibility of the evidence.

In addition, the scene was well lit at the time and identification of offenders could be done smoothly, the judge said.

West Kowloon Law Courts Building. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Sze added that there were inconsistencies in Pong’s testimony. The defendant described an apartment in To Kwa Wan that she went to with her friends as her flat, but later said it was her sister’s.

The defence plea

The defence appealed to the judge to consider alternatives to jail, including a community service order or a suspended sentence – in which the offender is not imprisoned unless they commit another offence within a designated period.

Pong is seven months pregnant, the defence said, and is expected to give birth in January. They added that she has abided by the law over the past few years and that the chances of her reoffending were low. There was no evidence to suggest that she had used the items found in her possession, nor that she was a radical protester.

A protest in 2019. File photo: May James.

The defendant also has a seven-year-old daughter with her ex-husband, according to the defence.

The court, however, did not request a pre-sentencing report that is required to assess a defendant’s suitability for community service.

The prosecution argued that the court did not have the power to hand Pong a suspended sentence because the possession of offensive weapons in public charge was not punishable by a suspended sentence.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.