A Hong Kong woman found guilty of assaulting a police officer after throwing a soda can at an officer’s back during a 2019 protest has been jailed for five months.

West Kowloon Law Courts Building. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Pong Lai-ying, 29, was handed the sentence at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Monday morning.

She was convicted earlier this month of assaulting a police officer and possessing an offensive weapon in a public place in connection with a protest outside a police station in Mong Kok on September 2, 2019. Besides the soda can, she also stood accused of having laser pens in her possession.

When delivering the sentence, magistrate Jeffrey Sze criticised Pong – who is currently pregnant – for acting “lawlessly,” RTHK reported. While no police officer was injured, Sze said the incident took place during the peak of the social movement, and that the act of throwing the soda can could have triggered the emotions of the public.

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

A deterrent sentence and immediate imprisonment was hence needed, Sze added.

The magistrate initially sentenced Pong to eight weeks for the assaulting a police officer charge and four months for the possession of an offensive weapons charge, InMedia reported. The sentence was reduced considering three years had passed since the incident and Pong had mended her ways, Sze said, adding he also took into account that she was pregnant.

2019 protests

Hong Kong saw citywide protests starting the summer of 2019, when the government attempted to pass a legal amendment that would allow fugitives to be transferred to mainland China for trial. The demonstrations swelled into a larger movement calling for democracy, as well as expressions of anger at Beijing’s perceived encroachment and alleged acts of police brutality in response to the protests.

Emotions ran high during the demonstration that Pong took part in, which was just days after August 31, 2019. That night, police were accused of assaulting commuters in Prince Edward MTR station and barring first aid volunteers from rendering help.

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

When Pong was convicted, the defence argued that she had 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.

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.

Over 10,200 people were arrested in connection with the protests, according to police.

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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.