Ten people who took part in a protest in Hong Kong’s Central district in 2019 have been jailed for up to four years for rioting.

Office workers and pro-democracy protesters raise their umbrellas for cover as they gather during a demonstration in Central in Hong Kong on November 12, 2019. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP.
Office workers and pro-democracy protesters raise their umbrellas for cover as they gather during a demonstration in Central in Hong Kong on November 12, 2019. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP.

The ten defendants, some of whom were teenagers at the time of the offence, appeared before District Court Judge Clement Lee on Thursday morning.

White-collar protests

The defendants were convicted of participating in a riot in the vicinity of Pedder Street, Des Voeux Road Central, and Connaught Road Central on November 12, 2019. According to the statement of facts, they disrupted public order in the city’s financial district.

The defendants damaged buses, threw petrol bombs and bricks at police officers, and vandalised two restaurants perceived to be opposed to the 2019 protests, Lee said in Cantonese. They also shouted seditious slogans including “good kids don’t become cops; all cops are bastards” and “Hongkongers, take revenge,” Lee added.

district court
Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

The demonstration was one of the “Lunch With You” protests attended by thousands of white-collar desk workers in the city’s central business district at the height of the 2019 anti-extradition bill unrest.

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.”

Three tiers of involvement

Six of the defendants on Thursday — Yip Ka-long, 25, Au Wing-fung, 26, Fu Chi-lam, 29, Cheng Hok-ming, 26, Pun Yuen-ying, 27, and Bosco Lai, 21 – had previously pleaded guilty to rioting and consequently had their sentences reduced by a quarter.

Fu and Pun were sentenced to three years in prison, down from a starting point of four years, after Lee ruled that they were “moderately” involved in the riot by disrupting traffic. That was the middle tier in a three-tier system indicating the defendants’ perceived level of involvement that Lee employed in his sentencing.

protest traffic cone causeway bay 1 July 2020
File photo: May James/HKFP.

Yip, Cheng, and Lai were sentenced to 31 months and two weeks, and Au was given 40 months and two weeks.

Lee said Au’s criminal liability was the highest of all 10 defendants, as he had gestured to others to chase a police convoy, after which a protester threw a brick at a police vehicle. By comparison, other defendants mostly stood guard to raise morale, he added.

One other defendant, 21-year-old Yeung Lai-wa, pleaded guilty on the fifth day of the trial in August. Yeung, who was 17 at the time of the protest, was sentenced to 33 months and two weeks in prison after her sentence was cut by a fifth for her guilty plea.

The remaining three defendants, Yeung Yiu, Lo Cheung-chun, and Ng Nga-chi were found guilty on Tuesday. Yeung was sentenced to four years in prison, while Lo got three years and six months. Ng got three years and three months as she was only at the protest for about half an hour, according to Lee’s ruling.

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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.