A former student leader and a detained activist were among seven people to have pleaded guilty to rioting in relation to the storming of Hong Kong’s legislature on July 1, 2019.

Althea Suen HKUSU president July 1
Althea Suen on May 29, 2023. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Althea Suen, who was the head of the University of Hong Kong’s students’ union and Ventus Lau entered their guilty pleas alongside Lo Lok-sang, Amy Pat, Pun Ho-chiu, Shum Keng-lok and Fan Chun-man in front of Deputy District Judge C. H. Lee at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court, which acted as a district court for the case, on Monday morning.

Five defendants, including actor Gregory Wong, pleaded not guilty to rioting while one remaining defendant, Ho Chun-yin, sought a medical report to prove his unsuitability to enter a plea. 

All defendants were charged with rioting and breaching an administrative instruction by entering or remaining in the precincts of the Legislative Council (LegCo) Chamber. However, prosecutor William Tam said the administrative instruction charge would not proceed against those who pleaded guilty to rioting.

Gregory Wong July 1
Gregory Wong on May 29, 2023. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Pun, a self-proclaimed street artist-activist known as “the painter,” pleaded guilty to two extra counts of unlawful assembly and property damage. Lam Kam-kwan also pleaded guilty to property damage while denying the rioting offence.

Gregory Wong and Ng Chi-yung pleaded guilty to violating the administrative order, the maximum penalty of which is three months in prison and a HK$2,000 fine, while rioting is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

According to the case summary read out in court, a group of demonstrators had rammed glass doors and windows at the LegCo complex on July 1, 2019, despite warnings from the LegCo secretariat and the police. The police retreated at 8:51 p.m. as corrosive powders and liquid were thrown at them by the protesters. 

Among the items damaged by protesters were 132 CCTV cameras, 73 door card readers, seven computers, 10 gates, six CCTV monitors, 40 lamps, 10 escalators, 11 lifts, 748 door locks, 45 window walls and 13 glass doors, the prosecutor said.

Repairs cost HK$36,284,116, the court heard. 

legco storming Monday July 1
Photo: May James.

Suen was recognised as she pulled down her mask to talk to another protester inside the LegCo Chamber during a livestream by a local broadcaster, according to the prosecution.

Before entering the court on Monday morning, Suen hugged her friends. People sitting in the public gallery later waved goodbye to the ex-HKU student leader as she was escorted out of the dock by correctional services officers.

While most of the defendants were recognised from livestream footage, Lo Lok-sang was identified after a fingerprint was found on a wooden railing near the president’s seat in the chamber.

A number of selfies taken by Shum Keng-lok sitting on several lawmakers’ seats in the Chamber, were found in his Samsung mobile phone, which was confiscated by the police after he was arrested on October 12, 2020. Shum told the police he had done nothing but take selfies in the LegCo building.

Ventus Lau
Ventus Lau outside court on June 10, 2020. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Ventus Lau, one of the 47 democrats involved in the city’s largest national security trial, was filmed giving a speech to the other protester inside the chamber. “We have to stay until the very last moment,” Lau could be heard shouting in the video played out in court. A banner that read “there’s no rioters, only tyranny” was hung above the president’s seat in the chamber, according to the video.

When asked if he agreed with the facts in the case summary, Lau said he “especially agreed with… ‘there’s no rioters, only tyranny,” adding that he also agreed with the rest of the summary. 

Ng Chi-yung uly 1
Ng Chi-yung on May 29, 2023. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

An interview with Ng Chi-yung, a 26 year-old father when LegCo was stormed in 2019, was played in court. Ng, who had his back turned to the camera in the video, told a reporter he was determined to stay and get arrested if that was what it cost to fight for freedom.

“If someone is not mentally prepared to be jailed for eight or 10 years, why would they walk inside this building?” Ng said in the interview.

The prosecutor said that more than 11 hours of footage would be played in court from Wednesday to Friday to show the situation inside the LegCo that day. The trial will resume on Tuesday morning.

Suen posted on Facebook on Monday morning, saying that she had decided to plead guilty in the weeks ahead of the trial after witnessing the city’s political overhaul, its shrinking civil society and the fall of the three branches of government in Hong Kong. 

“I have never regretted fighting for freedom, justice and democracy. In 2023, I’ll be imprisoned in Hong Kong, but my mind will still be free,” she wrote.

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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Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to StandNews, The Initium, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.