Hong Kong social worker Jackie Chen is set to challenge the retrial of her rioting case linked to the 2019 extradition bill protests at the city’s top court, after the Department of Justice (DoJ) successfully appealed against her acquittal by a lower court.

Jackie Chan
Jackie Chen. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Chen, Lai Pui-ki, Chung Ka-nang and Jason Gung, who were originally cleared of rioting on August 31, 2019 in Wan Chai, appeared in the District Court on Tuesday. Their court appearance came weeks after the Court of Appeal ruled that the judge who found the four not guilty of rioting was “plainly wrong” and ordered a retrial.

Local media reported on Tuesday that Chen’s lawyer, Chris Ng, told the court that his client intended to challenge the retrial at the Court of Final Appeal and asked the court to put the current proceedings on hold. The prosecution said the court should arrange a date for the retrial first despite Chen’s potential appeal.

Chief District Judge Justin Ko eventually adjourned the case to January 23 next year for mention.

Chen, a member of the Battlefield Social Worker group, was frequently seen on the front line of protests in 2019 when she volunteered to monitor police behaviour, liaise between protesters and the force, and provide emotional support at demonstrations.

She often spoke to police officers through a loudspeaker, telling them not to deploy tear gas against reporters and residents without protective gear.

During the original trial in September 2020, then-district judge Sham Siu-man ruled there was a lack of prima facie evidence to show that the social worker’s conduct and speech amounted to an unlawful assembly, let alone rioting.

august 31 china extradition admiralty (19)
Protest scene in Hong Kong on August 31, 2019. Photo: May James/HKFP.

In quashing Chen’s acquittal last month, appeal judges Jeremy Poon and Anthea Pang said the trial judge, who has reportedly since emigrated, had not considered whether Chen, through her presence, “was intentionally encouraging others to take part in the riot, thereby jointly committing the offence with others.”

Poon and Pang said if matters were correctly dealt with, the evidence against Chen and others in the case was “not flimsy at all.” They added that even though the retrial would take place more than four years after the protest in question, it would not cause any unfairness to the defendants as they would be able to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses and put up challenges based on video footage captured at the scene.

The appeal court’s ruling concerned two rioting cases and a total of 13 defendants, nine of whom left the city after Sham ruled them all not guilty in 2020 and 2021. The trial judge said at the time that  wearing clothing of a certain colour was a matter of personal preference and the court should not arbitrarily treat people in black as rioters.

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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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.