A Hong Kong court has sentenced two protesters to 15 to 18 months in prison over their participation in a riot during the police siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in 2019. A third person was sentenced to a training centre, an alternative to jail for young offenders.

Brian Leung Tsz-yeung, 26, Hui Ning-hin, 22, and Dick Cheung Tat-wing, 20, appeared in front of District Judge Stanley Chan on Wednesday morning.

District Court
The District Court. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Chan said that all three were “lucky” the prosecution had accepted a plea bargain and based the case on “a brief riotous moment” rather than the entire duration of the week-long campus siege.

The trio had earlier pleaded guilty to taking part in a riot near PolyU and the Hong Kong Science Museum on November 18, 2019, as their part of the plea bargain. Leung also pleaded guilty to possessing an instrument fit for unlawful purposes after he was found carrying a spanner.

In exchange for their guilty pleas, other charges pressed against them – including one count of rioting with others inside PolyU on November 17 and 18 – were kept on file.

The PolyU campus was occupied by pro-democracy protesters and surrounded by police for several days in the grip of the 2019 protests and unrest. Violent clashes erupted between the two sides, resulting in 300 hospitalisations and the arrests of 1,300.

According to Chan, the trio were among a group of protesters who attempted to escape the besieged campus in the morning of November 18.

tear gas poly-u umbrellas
Protester with umbrellas enshrouded with tear gas near Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press

After some protesters hurled petrol bombs and other hard objects at the police and officers fought back with tear gas, the three and 14 others attempted to escape by hiding inside the Hong Kong Science Museum, but were later found and arrested by police.

The judge said the three were all young with good characters and no criminal records. “I think the trio became victims of a storm after being manipulated by others,” Chan added.

After considering the defendants’ mitigation submissions, the judge set the starting point of sentencing for Leung and Hui at two years in prison.

Because they did not enter guilty pleas initially, instead agreeing to a plea deal, both were given a one-quarter discount, reducing the sentence to 18 months in prison.

For Hui, Chan took a further three months off after considering the mitigation letters written by Hui’s parents and girlfriend, and the defendant’s promise to “never give up,” meaning Hui was handed a 15-month jail term.

PolyU protest
Protesters outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on November 17, 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Meanwhile, Chan sentenced Cheung – who was only 17 at the time of the offence – to a training centre, where the minimum period of detention is six months and the maximum is three years, depending on conduct.

The judge said Cheung had made the “right decision” to return to Hong Kong from Taiwan in February 2021 to face his charge. “Even if the defendant had to be imprisoned for a few years, that would still be much better than spending the rest of his life in exile,” the judge added.

Four others who pleaded not guilty in the same case are currently on trial. Another co-defendant, Lee Ka-hei, had earlier pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a training centre.

Sticker with law firm contact

Included in an afterword to his reasons for sentencing, Chan said he was aware that there was a sticker on Cheung’s phone case when he was arrested that said, “Don’t be afraid, we are here,” with the number of Bond Ng Solicitors on it.

The judge said the message could have two implications: that someone had encouraged the defendants to go to the protest scene or the frontline, or that there was potential benefit from providing legal support to the protesters.

“I emphasise that there is no evidence suggesting the sticker was made by the law firm, nor that the firm gave it to the defendant,” Chan said, adding that he would not dig into the matter in the hearing of this case.

“But related authorities, including the Law Society of Hong Kong and the Legal Aid Department, can make their own decision on whether they would like to follow up,” he added.

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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.