A Hong Kong court has shot down four students’ attempts to appeal their convictions and jail sentences relating to rioting charges at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in 2019.

CUHK Chinese University of Hong Kong "November 12" protest
The Chinese University of Hong Kong on November 12, 2019. File photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press.

Lau Chun-yuk, Ko Chi-pan, Chan Lik-sik and Hui Yi-chuen, who were students at CUHK during the protests and unrest that year, appeared before a three-panel judge at the Court of Appeal on Tuesday.

The four were accused of rioting at the university on November 11, 2019. That day, intense clashes broke out between protesters and police officers in a siege that became known as one of the more violent episodes of the months-long demonstrations.

A District Court judge found them guilty of rioting and other charges including possessing offensive weapons in October 2021. The court delivered jail sentences of between four years and nine months and four years and 11 months.

Appearing at the Court of Appeal on Tuesday, Chan sought to appeal his conviction, while the other three sought to appeal the jail terms.

High Court
Hong Kong’s High Court. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The judges rejected all of their applications, meaning the four would continue to serve their sentences.

Not a bystander, judges say

Representing Chan, barrister Poon Siu-bunn said the District Court judge’s basis for finding his client guilty was improper and that it was not irrefutable that Chan had participated in a riot, The Witness reported.

Poon also said that while Chan was wearing a black top – black clothing was considered an unofficial uniform of the protesters – it was a dormitory t-shirt, resembling that of a bystander. Judge Derek Pang told Poon to “be realistic,” and given Chan was standing near the protesters and had similar equipment as them, he was not a bystander.

The barrister then attempted to argue that Chan could have been a journalist as he was wearing a helmet and a respirator, and was holding a phone, InMedia reported.

“So was he a journalist?” Pang asked, to which Poon said it could not be completely ruled out.

CUHK Chinese University of Hong Kong protest PolyU
A sign reading “CUHK, add oil.” at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Photo: Kaiser/United Social Press.

Pang said Chan did not testify during the trial so there was no evidence in that aspect for the court to consider. The two other judges, Maggie Poon and Anthea Pang, said there was no need for the court to speculate whether Chan was a journalist.

The prosecution said the riot had lasted over an hour, and that protesters had charged towards police officers on four occasions during that time.

Jail sentence appeals

The other three ex-students, Lau, Ko and Hui, attempted to appeal their jail sentences.

Lau’s barrister brought up a court case relating to the Mong Kok unrest in 2016 – sometimes referred to as the Fishball Revolution as it was sparked by a police crackdown on unlicensed food stalls – and said the offences were more severe than his client’s case, yet the starting point of the sentences delivered were similar or lower.

The judges said the context of the CUHK case was serious as it involved protesters charging towards police lines which were set up to stop people from throwing objects off the bridge near where the clashes occurred. Judge Derek Pang added that the throwing of items could have caused trains running nearby to derail, potentially leading to a collision.

Chinese University of Hong Kong CUHK
Chinese University of Hong Kong. Photo: CUHK.

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 demonstrations dried up in 2020 amid the Covid-19 outbreak and Beijing’s imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong that June.

Over 10,250 protest-related arrests were made, police said, about 40 per cent of whom were secondary school or university students.

Of those arrested, police said in February that 2,899 people had been charged. Apart from 800-odd people whose cases were serious and still being investigated, there were almost 6,500 who were yet to be charged.

In mid-March, the Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu told reporters that police would announce how they planned to deal with the remaining cases within the month. But there have yet to be further updates.

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.