The Hong Kong government has filed an appeal seeking tougher sentences for five men jailed for rioting during the anti-extradition protests in 2019.

The Department of Justice lodged the appeal on Wednesday, court reporting outlet The Witness reported.

Department of Justice
Hong Kong Department of Justice. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Five people surnamed Leung, Kwok, Hui, Ma and Cheung were jailed for between 15 and 18 months in January for rioting near the Polytechnic University in November 2019. The Hung Hom campus was the site of intense, week-long clashes between protesters and police as the protests – sparked by a controversial extradition bill – entered their fifth month.

The District Court judge said while handing down the jail terms that some of the defendants had reached a plea deal with the prosecution, resulting in the sentencing only being based on an eight-minute clash beside the Science Museum near the university.

The prosecution’s acceptance of the plea deal was “the defendants’ luck,” the judge said.

HKFP has reached out to the Department of Justice for comment.

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

Rioting is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, although jail terms are capped at seven years when the case is heard in the District Court.

2019 unrest

Among the five defendants, Leung and Hui received the longest sentences of 18 months.

Leung separately also pleaded guilty to possession of instruments fit for unlawful purposes. As the judge deemed his chances of reoffending low, he allowed Leung to serve the sentences for that offence and for rioting concurrently.

Also charged in the same case were three others surnamed Chung, Lee and Yim. The latter two, aged 20, were sentenced to a training centre – an alternative to imprisonment for younger offenders, with a detention period of between six months and three years.

november 20 polytechnic university polyu siege
Polytechnic University during the campus clashes in 2019. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Chung pleaded not guilty and was convicted after the case went to trial. He was jailed for three and a half years in jail and is appealing his sentence, The Witness reported.

Protests began in the summer of 2019 over an extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to mainland China to stand trial. The government suspended the bill, but protests – which had by then ballooned into a wider display of dissatisfaction with the local and Beijing governments – continued.

Over 10,200 people were arrested, many of whom were students. The unrest died out amid the Covid-19 pandemic and Beijing’s passing of the national security law in June 2020.

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.