Four Hong Kong men have been jailed for up to four years and nine months, after they were convicted of rioting in connection with the police siege of Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) during the 2019 extradition bill protests.

November 18 Dylan Hollingsworth yau ma tei
Protest scene in Yau Ma Tei on November 18, 2019. File photo: Dylan Hollingsworth/HKFP.

Deputy District Judge Ada Yim on Thursday passed prison terms on Chak Yiu-wai, Dunne Chow Fung-tak, Lam Wai-lun and Kris Li, after they were found guilty of rioting in Yau Ma Tei on November 18, 2019, local media reported.

The defendants, aged between 21 and 24, were among 213 people detained by the police in Yau Ma Tei that day, when the city saw the violent clashes between police and protesters at PolyU. They were originally prosecuted alongside 14 others and were found guilty after trial.

According to local media, Yim said the riot took place in an area with towering buildings, and the hurling of petrol bombs posed “extremely high” risks to the personal safety of nearby shop keepers, reporters, passers-by and police officers and their property.

The case was serious and no matter when the defendants joined in, they must have known that protesters were breaching the peace, she said. Their participation added momentum to the rioting crowds and kept the riot going, local media reported citing the judge.

Yim offered jail time reductions of three to seven months to the defendants due to their young ages, their “active learning and working” pending trial and other factors. Chak was eventually sentenced to four years and five months behind bars, while Chow was jailed for four years and nine months. Li and Lam, the latter of whom was with a metal rod with a hexagonal key, both received a prison term of four years and eight months.

november 17 polytechnic university polyu
This photo taken on November 17, 2019 shows Hong Kong protester outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

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.” 

The Hung Hom-based university was surrounded on all sides by riot police for almost two weeks in mid-November that year, as some protesters barricaded themselves inside the red-brick campus, while others surrendered. Some took desperate measures to flee the university by climbing down ropes or escaping through sewers.

The arrests in Yau Ma Tei on November 18 came after some people made online calls to “rescue” protesters inside the university by staging protests in nearby areas in a bid to divert policing effort.

At a media briefing held after Thursday’s sentencing hearing, police said that individuals apprehended in Yau Ma Tei were later grouped into 17 cases and tried by the District Court. Including the four men sentenced on Thursday, 112 out of 213 defendants were convicted of rioting. Among them, 85 people were jailed between 29 and 64 months, while four were sentenced to a training centre. Twenty-three are awaiting sentencing.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.