A man jailed for 14.5 years over biting the ear off a Hong Kong democrat in the midst of 2019 protests will be allowed to appeal his sentence.

Andrew Chiu april 26 taikoo mall
Tai Koo Shing West District Councillor Andrew Chiu. File photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

Justice of Appeal Derek Pang heard Joe Chen’s application to appeal his sentence at the High Court on Tuesday morning. Chen, who was 52 when he was sentenced last April, was found guilty by a jury of biting off then-district councillor Andrew Chiu’s ear, slashing a husband and wife with a knife, and assaulting a relative of the couple in Tai Koo Shing during a protest in November 2019.

Representing Chen at Tuesday’s hearing, Senior Counsel Selwyn Yu said his client had earlier applied to appeal against his conviction, but had cancelled the request in August.

According to Yu, his client would like to argue that the original judge, Judianna Barnes, did not give sufficient consideration to Chen’s mitigation factors, which included the compensation he paid the victims and his mental health.

The senior counsel said Chen had paid over HK$5 million to the four people he either wounded or assaulted. After they initially filed a civil suit claiming damages from Chen, he agreed to settle out of court.

A source with knowledge of the matter told HKFP that Andrew Chiu had received HK$1.9 million in reparation. The wounded husband received HK$1 million, the wife got HK$750,000 and the remaining relative was paid HK$250,000. The rest covered their court fees.

Yu also argued that Barnes had not given enough weight to the social context of the case, nor to his client’s mental health issues.

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

The lawyer said that at the time of the offence, “those who spoke in Mandarin were being targeted,” and the violence was triggered by people telling Chen to “get away” and “go back to the mainland.”

Yu also cited Chen’s psychological report, saying his client “could not control his impulses as his recurrent depressive disorder and drinking problem affected his temper.”

‘Seems a bit heavy’

Apart from mitigation factors, the senior counsel also told the court that Chen would like to appeal Barnes’ decision relating to how much of Chen’s sentences should be served consecutively.

“All things considered, 14.5 years [of imprisonment] seem a bit heavy, but a sentence of more than 10 years is a must,” Pang said.

Derek Pang
Justice of Appeal Derek Pang. Photo: Judiciary.

Senior Public Prosecutor Crystal Chan responded by saying that she agreed the sentence was “high,” but it was “within the scope that the original judge can hand down.”

“[With a high sentence] the court sends a message that using a knife over such a trivial matter – when two camps had a dispute – should never happen in Hong Kong, a society that upholds the rule of law,” Chan added.

In the end, Judge Pang ruled that there was “room for discretion” as to whether the original sentence was “obviously overly heavy,” and granted Chen leave to appeal his jail term at the Court of Appeal.

The justice of appeal said he would not comment on what the reasonable sentence for the case would be but said it remained a “very severe case that is intolerable.”

The attack

Sit-in protests at shopping malls were common during the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest.

The attack took place outside the Cityplaza mall after police stormed the shopping centre as two restaurants were vandalised by protesters. Chen launched the attack when he was met with an insult after chanting “liberate Taiwan.”

april 26 tai koo cityplaza mall choir
Andrew Chiu. File photo: Kevin Cheng/United Social Press.

Chiu, who was then the pro-democracy District Councillor for Tai Koo Shing West, said during the initial trial that an attempt to reattach his ear surgically had failed. The three other victims also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

After committing the attack, Chen was beaten by others at the scene. The starting point of Chen’s sentence was set at 18 years, but Barnes gave him a three-and-a-half-year reduction, saying Chen had been a victim of “vigilantism” and because he had needed an operation on his brain.

Separately, Chiu is among the 47 prominent pro-democracy figures under the Beijing-imposed national security law over their parts in an alleged conspiracy to commit subversion over an unofficial primary election in 2020. They face up to life in prison if convicted.

He is one of four witnesses for the prosecution testifying against their peers.

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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.