A Hong Kong protester who allegedly hid in safehouses for two years to dodge a protest-related criminal charge has pleaded guilty to rioting and perversion of justice.

Fung Ching-wah, who has been in remand for over a year, appeared before Deputy District Judge Pang Leung-ting at the West Kowloon Law Courts Building on Wednesday.

West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts
West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Standing in the dock, the defendant wore a white dress shirt with his hair in a bun. His case was committed to the District Court, where he could face up to seven years in prison if convicted, but the hearing itself was moved to the Sham Shui Po courthouse.

Fung was among four wanted activists who were arrested last July after hiding in safehouses. He was on the run with Ansen Wong, Alex Wong, and Tsang Chi-kin, a protester who was shot by a police officer at point blank range during a protest in Tsuen Wan during the 2019 protests and unrest.

A fifth defendant, Yip Ho, was accused of helping hide the four, providing them with food and transferring them between hideouts between October 2020 and July 13 last year.

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.” 

Guilty pleas

According to the case details read out in court, around 200 protesters were at the intersection of Hoi Pa Street and Kai Chi Close in Tsuen Wan on October 1, 2019, throwing Molotov cocktails and bricks as police officers opened fire with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The prosecution also played footage of a news broadcast showing Fung’s arrest that day. The prosecution told the court that Fung was arrested and charged with rioting, but was later granted bail.

Tsang Chi-kin
Tsang Chi-kin. File photo: Supplied.

The four protesters hid in several different apartments in Kwai Chung after failing to show up to their court dates linked to the protest charges, and were eventually arrested in Pak Tam Chung, where they had planned to flee to Taiwan by sea.

Fung, now 24, faced one rioting charge and a separate charge of “doing an act or a series of acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice.” He pleaded guilty to both charges on Wednesday.

The activist is currently remanded in solitary confinement at Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre, his lawyer told the court on Wednesday.

‘His own choice’

Fung’s lawyer said in mitigation that there was “no way to deny” that his client had attempted to flee the city, but also added that the activist was on the run for 517 days, during which he “did not see the light of day, under enormous pressure.”

Li Kwai-wah
Senior Superintendent Li Kwai-wah tells the press the national security department had taken over the case. File Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

“To some extent, you can say that that was his own choice, and that he paid the price for his own choices,” he said, adding that Fung’s two years on the run were akin to house arrest.

But he added that the 24-year-old decided to plead guilty to both charges less than a week after he was arrested last July, and that he volunteered information to assist in police investigations.

While his cooperation was not of any concrete help in the probe, his lawyer said, Fung’s willingness to cooperate had sufficiently showed his remorse. “He wanted to pay the price as soon as possible, then go back to his family,” he told the court.

Judge Pang will hand down Fung’s sentence on September 11.

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James Lee is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in culture and social issues. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he witnessed the institution’s transformation over the course of the 2019 extradition bill protests and after the passing of the Beijing-imposed security law.

Since joining HKFP in 2023, he has covered local politics, the city’s housing crisis, as well as landmark court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial. He was previously a reporter at The Standard where he interviewed pro-establishment heavyweights and extensively covered the Covid-19 pandemic and Hong Kong’s political overhauls under the national security law.