Lo Kin-hei, the chairperson of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, has been acquitted of participating in an unlawful assembly close to The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) when it was under police siege during the 2019 protests and unrest.

Democratic Party Chairperson Lo Kin-hei (left) arriving at the District Court with former chair of the Democratic Party Emily Lau on November 30, 2022. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The democrat and four co-defendants – Chan Chung Yee, Tam Ho-ming, Mok Tak-wai and Tang Cheuk-yu – appeared in front of District Judge Ernest Lin on Wednesday morning.

Lo, Chan, Tam and Mok were accused of taking part in a unlawful assembly near the Hong Kong Science Museum in Tsim Sha Tsui on November 18, 2019, when pro-democracy protesters had gathered in areas near PolyU and clashes had broken out between protesters and riot police. Tang faced charges of possessing an offensive weapon and possessing anything with and intent to destroy or damage property.

Chan, Tam and Mok were found guilty of unlawful assembly, while Tang was convicted of the offensive weapon charge. They will be remanded in custody ahead of sentencing on December 21.

According to the judgement, Lo, Chan, Tam and Mok were among 135 people arrested outside of the Chinachem Golden Plaza as they were on their way to PolyU in support of the protesters who had occupied the campus.

Tang, meanwhile, was arrested in a nearby alley after he was stopped and searched by officers.

‘Not beyond reasonable doubt’

Lo told the court that he was only planning to observe what was happening at the scene. He also said he was “unaware” that the police had categorised protesters’ occupation of PolyU as a riot and “did not know” that police had urged people to avoid heading towards the blockaded area.

Lin said Lo’s knowledge of the PolyU incident was “too narrow to be believable” considering the defendant’s status as a politician and public officer, and that he had “reservations” about Lo’s honesty.

District Judge Ernest Lin. File photo: Judiciary.

Lin said the act of a politician staying at the scene of police-protester clashes “cannot be uncalculated.”

“I believe he intended to increase his popularity and accumulate political capital, and hoped to create an image of standing with the protesters,” Lin said.

However, Lin said Lo did not act to encourage or participate in the clashes, and video evidence showed that he did not interact with other protesters.

The judge noted that Lo’s clothing – he wore a white shirt, and a green backpack on his front – was different from typical protester attire and that Lo lacked “protective” gear such as goggles or face masks.

“To bear the risk and stay at the scene for personal benefits, such as accumulating political capital, ‘witnessing the era,’ ‘monitoring and stopping abuse of power by the police,’ or to satisfy one’s curiosity – although morally suspicious – cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt that a person had in fact participated in an unlawful assembly without other environmental evidence,” Lin concluded.

‘I have to carry on’

On Monday, the Democratic Party announced in a press release that Lo was the only nominee for the chairperson position in the party’s upcoming leadership election.

Ex-lawmaker Emily Lau (second left), Democratic Party Chairperson Lo Kin-hei (second right), and “the Bull” Tsang Kin-shing (right) meeting the press outside the District Court in Wan Chai on November 30, 2022. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Speaking to the press after hearing the court’s verdict, Lo said, “now that I am acquitted, there are fewer worries on our minds.”

“I believe now we can work harder… so that we won’t fail to live up to people’s support of the Democratic Party over all these years. We will continue to make Hongkongers’ voices heard.”

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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.