A Hong Kong photographer has been jailed for eight months over a 2019 protest incident that saw demonstrators surrounding and assaulting a motorcyclist that drove into roadblocks.

August 5 protest tuen mun tear gas
Tear gas fired at protest in Tuen Mun on August 5, 2019. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Wong Wai-ho, 25, pleaded guilty on Monday to one charge of false imprisonment at District Court, The Witness reported.

The court heard that Wong – together with other unnamed individuals – detained a motorcyclist against his wishes in Tuen Mun on August 5, 2019.

That day, protesters had responded to calls to stage a citywide strike. In the evening, around 200 people spilled out onto the street near a section of Tuen Mun Road and began setting up roadblocks.

Later, a motorcyclist knocked into the roadblocks and fell to the ground, the court heard. Around 20 protesters wearing masks and helmets charged towards him, berating him and hitting him with umbrellas. Along with other protesters, Wong used a plastic zip tie to bind his ankles together.

The motorcyclist was said to have been falsely imprisoned for 22 minutes.

The defence argued that Wong had arrived at the scene to take photos and committed the crime out of impulse as he was swayed by the atmosphere then.

district court
Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

At the time, Hong Kong was in the midst of protests sparked by a controversial amendment to the city’s extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to mainland China. The unrest grew into months-long discontent against Hong Kong and Beijing authorities, with demonstrations only quelled in 2020 amid Covid-19 and the enactment of the national security law.

‘Could have been fatal’

Handing down the sentence, judge Clement Lee said Wong’s impromptu participation in the act had contributed to the tensions and that the false imprisonment “could have been fatal.”

Lee added that Wong “should be grateful” that he was only charged with false imprisonment and not rioting, which carries a heavier maximum sentence of 10 years. The maximum term that can be imposed in the District Court, however, is seven years.

The judge also said the case was similar to the “airport riot case,” referring to an incident in August 2019 when protesters occupied the airport and brought flights to a halt. That day, protesters assaulted Fu Guohao, a reporter from state-backed media outlet the Global Times, tying his hands to a trolley and beating him.

august 13 china extradition airport (1)
A protest at the Hong Kong International Airport on August 13, 2019. Photo: May James/HKFP.

Three people – who were convicted of rioting and assault causing actual bodily harm – were jailed for up to five and a half years over the incident.

In November, Fu’s father announced the death of his son on Weibo.

The defence’s plea

Wong expressed remorse over his actions, the defence said, adding that he had acted unlawfully as he was unable to “properly control himself.”

His parents are based in the mainland and due to Covid-19 restrictions, his father only arrived in the city recently. He hoped that the court would hand down a light sentence as he had not seen his parents in a long time, The Witness reported.

Hong Kong police arrested over 10,200 people in connection with the 2019 protests. Almost 3,000 people, including more than 500 minors, have so far been prosecuted for their offences, according to official figures published in October.

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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.