Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal has said that people who wielded “vigilante justice” against a taxi driver whose vehicle hit a crowd during the 2019 protests acted in a “lawless” manner. The act was even “more serious” than assaulting riot police officers, the court ruled, as it jailed a man who beat the driver for an extra 13 months.
Judges Derek Pang, Maggie Poon and Anthea Pang ruled in favour of the prosecution last month and extended the jail time for 34-year-old Cheung Tsz-lung from three years to 49 months. The reasons of their judgement were published on Thursday.
Cheung had pleaded guilty in May last year to taking part in a riot and breaching the city’s protest mask ban. A third charge of wounding with intent against him was stored on court file. Local media said Cheung would have completed his sentence on July 20 this year if his jail time had not been extended.
According to the case details, a taxi driven by a man – surnamed Cheng – faced a protester road block in Sham Shui Po on October 6, 2019. Around 200 to 300 people wearing black clothes and masks – the common attire of pro-democracy protesters during the 2019 unrest – were on the scene.
Some of the crowd damaged Cheng’s vehicle with umbrellas and iron rods, with at least three climbing into the taxi to hit the driver with sharpened iron rods. That “caused the victim to lose control over the taxi,” which then rammed onto the pavement and hit two women, the case details read.
The driver was then dragged out of the taxi and beaten up by at least 20 masked people. The defendant admitted that he was among the attackers, and that he had trampled towards Cheng’s direction and twice swung a long stiff object at the driver’s upper body.
In Thursday’s judgement, the panel of three judges said the initial sentencing handed down by District Judge Clement Lee was “obviously too light” and the lower judge had made “errors of principle.”
The higher court said Lee did not take into account the “characteristic of vigilantism” in the case: “The crowd… did not take priority in taking care of the two injured female passers-by, but swarmed up and dragged the victim out of the taxi to beat him up. [They] even ignored that the victim suffered head injuries, was covered in blood and had fallen to the ground and continued with the assault.”
The three judges wrote that the crowd vented their anger against the driver and “committed lawless acts of hate, bullying, intimidation and silencing against him.”
They said Judge Lee “overlooked that the people involved in the case carried out vigilante justice against those with a different background or stance, [and] to a certain extent, it was more serious than resisting and assaulting police officers wearing riot gear.”
Additionally, the original judge should have ruled that the riot in question was “pre-planned to a certain degree” and the defendant’s actions against the driver were “deliberate,” the panel of judges said.
As a result, the higher court set the new starting point for Cheung’s jail term of 6.5 years. After giving the defendant a one-third discount for his guilty plea and a three month deduction resulting from the sentencing review, the final sentence stood at 49 months of imprisonment.
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