Two Hong Kong students who pleaded not guilty to rioting near a university campus during the protests and unrest in 2019 were “not just innocent passers-by,” a court has heard.
Fan Tsz-suet and To Mei-yi entered their pleas at West Kowloon Magistrates” Court on Wednesday morning. They stood accused of rioting outside Tate’s Cairn Tunnel near Hang Seng University in Sha Tin.
A third defendant in the case, Lo Ching-ting, changed her plea to guilty, The Witness reported. All three were students at Hang Seng University.
According to the case details, 10 to 20 people wearing black gathered outside the Tate’s Cairn Tunnel Administration Building at around 6.35 am on November 12, 2019. The day before, people had made calls online for protesters to take part in “operation at dawn” and set up roadblocks across the city.
Near the tunnel, protesters used wooden planks to smash display panels and windows of the tunnel toll booths, the court heard. They also set fires and pushed traffic cones, paralysing traffic.
Police arrived at the scene at around 7 am. Fan and To were among a group who ran away from police, with Fan heading in the direction of an academic building and To towards a dormitory.
According to the prosecution, both were among the slower ones in the group, while the tips of To’s hair were dyed green.
The prosecution also said that protesters entered the tunnel area, which is off-limits to the public, to disrupt public order and take part in an illegal gathering.
There was no evidence that Fan and To engaged in any violent acts, the prosecution said. But they added that based on the defendants’ clothes, where they were located, the similarity of their actions and escape routes with other protesters, it was believed they were not “innocent passersby.”
A riot charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, although jail terms delivered for District Court cases are capped at seven years.
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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