A Hong Kong man who hid in safehouses in an attempt to dodge a protest-related criminal charge has been handed a four-year jail term for rioting and perverting the course of justice.

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

Wearing a white, long-sleeve shirt and his hair in a bun, Fung Ching-wah appeared at the West Kowloon Law Courts Building on Monday for the District Court case. He was among a group of four – all of them facing charges linked to the 2019 protests and unrest – who went into hiding for two years before being intercepted by police last July while en route to take a boat to Taiwan.

The 24-year-old pleaded guilty to rioting and perverting the course of justice last month. The riot charge related to a protest in Tsuen Wan on October 1, 2019, when protesters and police clashed as Hong Kong marked National Day.

Deputy District Judge Pang Leung-ting took a starting point of four and a half years for the rioting charge. He said he considered Fung’s guilty plea, which normally would have warranted a one-third sentence discount.

But he said that given Fung was absent for earlier court dates and had attempted to flee Hong Kong, the court would only grant him a one-fifth sentence discount.

October 1 National Day protests Hong Kong Island Wan Chai Admiralty Causeway Bay tear gas
A protest on Oct. 1, 2019. File photo: Aidan Marzo/HKFP.

For the perversion of justice charge, Pang initially delivered a sentence of 15 months. For that he factored in the one-third sentence discount, resulting in a 10-month sentence.

The judge said five months from the perversion of justice charge would be served concurrently with the rioting sentence, meaning Fung was ultimately handed a four-year jail term.

Supporters in the public gallery waved at Fung and yelled “take care” as correctional officers led him out of the courtroom, but he did not really look in their direction.

‘Brought this on to himself’

News that four protest fugitives had hidden in safehouses for two years ahead of their planned escape made local headlines last July, when they were arrested in Sai Kung where their boat was meant to depart from.

Among the fugitives was Tsang Chi-kin, a student who was shot by a police officer at point black range during a protest in 2019.

tsang chi kin shot in the chest Oct 1 2019
Protester Tsang Chi-kin was shot in the chest by police on October 1, 2019 during a protest in Tsuen Wan. Photo: CityU Editorial Board video screenshot.

Police officers said the four were shuttled via cardboard boxes between safehouses, most recently a windowless unit in an industrial building in Tsuen Wan. A group supported them with money raised via a foreign crowdfunding site, police said, but added they had stopped giving them food or paying rent.

All of them have been on remand for over a year since their arrests. They face offences related to the protests in addition to perverting the course of justice.

Handing down Fung’s sentence on Monday, Pang said that, regarding the riot charge, he “principally” agreed with the defence’s four points that there was no evidence that Fung had a political motive; that the equipment found on him was for protection; that there was no evidence he took a leadership role; and that there was no evidence that others were hurt by his acts.

On the perversion of justice charge, Pang said he accepted the defence’s case that Fung did not plan the escape and had given information to police after his arrest. But he said he disagreed with the defence’s statement that Fung’s 517 days in hiding were akin to “house arrest.”

October 1 National Day protests Hong Kong Island protester arrest
A protest on Oct. 1, 2019. File photo: Aidan Marzo/HKFP.

Fung had “brought this onto himself,” Pang said, adding that he did not think this was a factor to give him a lighter sentence.

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.” 

Tsang, and the two others who were also in hiding, Ansen Wong and Alex Wong, will submit their pleas on September 28.

Yip Ho – a warehouse worker accused of assisting the fugitives – will enter his plea on October 4.

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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.