A Hong Kong court has rejected attempts by two men to challenge their convictions for rioting in a case linked to the siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) during the 2019 pro-democracy protests.

High Court.
High Court. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Justices of Appeal Derek Pang, Maggie Poon and Anthea Pang handed down their decision on the appeal bid by Nelson Chan and Wong Sik-chit on Thursday.

The pair were earlier sentenced to 38 months in jail after they were found guilty of taking part in a riot on Gascoigne Road near PolyU on November 18, 2019.

On that day, pro-democracy demonstrators rallied in different parts of Kowloon to show support for protesters encircled by police on the university campus. The stand off at PolyU lasted for 11 days and left more than 300 people hospitalised and 1,300 arrested.

Barristers David Ma, Renee Cheng and Winson Yung representing Chan and Wong argued that the original judge had “wrongfully” ruled against their clients.

2019 protests polyu bricks
Protesters outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University when it was under police siege during the 2019 protests and unrest. File photo: Jimmy Lam/USP & HKFP.

They said police witnesses could not prove the duo were among the protesters who fled at that time, or had stayed near the front line, and suggested the pair could just be passers-by.

The barristers said there were two possible routes for Chan and Wong to have reached the place where they were arrested without becoming involved in protests, but the appeal panel refuted the lawyers’ suggestions.

The judges said the first route did not match with the video evidence, while the second suggestion “does not stand up to analysis.”

At that time, police had launched tear gas multiple times and the scene was covered in smoke.

November 18 Dylan Hollingsworth yau ma tei
A protest scene on November 18, 2019. File photo: Dylan Hollingsworth/HKFP.

“Under such circumstances, it is difficult to think of an innocent reason for anyone… who were in any nearby side streets to enter or go deeper down Gascoigne Road, irrespective of whether he turned back and left in the end,” the judges said, adding that the lawyers’ arguments “are not convincing at all.”

Need for explanation

In addition, the judges said the two applicants must testify in court and undergo cross-examination by the prosecution “if the defence truly had an explanation for why the defendants were found in a riot with protective gear.”

In their judgement they said it was a “double-edged sword” for the barristers to highlight that Wong was not arrested until five or six minutes after police had dispersed the rioting crowd.

As there was footage showing that some protesters were still fighting back, “the later [Wong] was arrested, the more it became necessary for him to explain why he had waited until then to run away from the scene,” the judges added.

The judges concluded that the original court “made no mistakes in any areas” and rejected the appeal bids.

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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.