Eight Hongkongers have been sentenced to between 28 and 34 months in prison for their parts in a riot during the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest.

The judge said the protesters had turned the business and political centre of Hong Kong into a “battlefield,” and that it was thanks to the police not using lethal force that there had been no casualties.

september 29 china extradition protest admiralty
September 29, 2019. File photo: May James/HKFP

Ho Tik-heng, Jeffrey Fok, Jacky Wong, Lo Hong-kit, Chan Wo-yui, Chan Yan-fu, Nicola Shum, and Lai Kui-chi appeared in front of Judge Ernest Lin at the District Court on Monday for mitigation and sentencing.

They each pleaded guilty on March 27 to taking part in a riot on major road Queensway, in Admiralty, on September 29, 2019. On that day, pro-democracy protesters had organised an unauthorised “global anti-authoritarianism” rally on Hong Kong Island, where multiple clashes between police and protesters had occurred.

Separate offensive weapon charges against Chan Wo-yui and Chan Yan-fu over the possession of laser pointers were kept on court file after the pair pleaded guilty to rioting.

When handing down the sentence, Judge Lin said the riot in question had seen at least 1,000 participants and had lasted for more than two hours.

While there was no evidence of an obvious organiser or detailed planning, Lin said there was a certain pattern to how the “violent incidents” in the latter half of 2019 came to be.

The judge said they always began with someone calling for a “peaceful” demonstration based on abstract political ideas. After that, people who claimed to be young people’s mentors, as well as some opinion leaders and media outlets, would encourage youngsters to take part.

However, Lin said that protests called for under peaceful terms would end up as violent clashes with law enforcement.

Citing how protesters wore similar dark clothes and worked together to dig up bricks as weapons and operate a “giant rubber band” to shoot objects at the government building, Lin said the riot in question was “an anti-government activity that was planned ahead by more than one organisation.”

district court
Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

Protesters had blocked roads, removed signs celebrating the Chinese National Day and lit them on fire, hurled bricks, petrol bombs and hard objects at the Central Government Office and the police, and shone laser pointers at officers, the judge added.

Lin said the protestors’ means of attack were “primitive but lethal” and it was the protective gear and training of the police, rather than protesters’ restraint, that saved them from casualties.

“The entire area was turned into a battlefield. There was no casualty only because the police did not use lethal weapons,” Lin added.

The judge also said protesters’ actions had disturbed other members of the public, halted business and daily activities at the “heart” of Hong Kong Island, and damaged Hongkongers’ international reputation of being peaceful and practical.

In addition, Lin said the riot had divided Hong Kong’s society into two camps who either despised what the protesters did or supported their clause, with no middle ground in between. “The freedom and democracy hailed by the protesters had turned into a form of autocracy,” he added.

28 to 34 months

The judge set the staring point of sentence for Ho, Fok, Wong, Shum and Lai at 48 months after he ruled that they had been prepared to participate in the riot by wearing similar clothes and gear to other protesters.

He added that the five had added to the number of protesters with their presence, with the intent to support them and “let them believe that they were not alone in their cause, had strength in numbers, and that the police would not have the capability to enforce the law.” The judge said they “amplified violent acts and the resistance of law enforcement.”

LIN Kam-hung, Ernest Michael 練錦鴻.JPG
District Judge Ernest Lin. File photo: Judiciary.

After considering the defendants’ guilty pleas and their background, Lin jailed Ho, Fok, Shum and Lai for 32 months.

Wong was given 28 months in jail. The judge said the extra four-month discount was for his good personality and young age, as he was only 19-year-old when he was arrested at the scene.

Lin said he found the three remaining defendants to have had higher criminal responsibility. The sentence starting point for Lo was set at 50 months, while for Chan Wo-yui and Chan Yan-fu it was set at 51 months.

Lin said the fact that Lo had worn black clothes, carried gear common for protesters, and brought three octopus cards, spray paint and clothes for changing into showed he had intended to participate in the riot and resist law enforcement.

Meanwhile, the judge said that Chan Wo-yui and Chan Yan-fu had participated in resisting the law enforcement.

Chan Wo-yui was found with a laser pointer, two wrenches and medical supplies on top of other common protesting gear, while Chan Yan-fu had carried a laser pointer, saline solution, a heat resistant glove and a raincoat that the judge said could be used to hinder the usefulness of tear gas and water cannon.

After considering their mitigation factors and guilty pleas, Lin sentenced Lo to 33 months of jail. Chan Wo-yui and Chan Yan-fu were both jailed for 34 months.

Protests erupted in June 2019 over a since-axed extradition bill. They escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. Demonstrators demanded an independent probe into police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.” 

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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.