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.

District Court
District Court. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

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.

(Isaac Yee) July 1 Legco Protest extradition (40) (Copy) riot police
Riot police. File photo: Isaac Yee/HKFP.

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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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.