Five people have been jailed for up to 37 months for charges linked to their roles in the false imprisonment and beating of a plainclothes police officer in October 2019, during the height of the protests and unrest sparked by a since-axed extradition law.

District Judge Edmond Lee handed down the sentences on Wednesday linked to the group’s participation in what the court ruled a riot on October 13, 2019, during which they falsely imprisoned a plainclothes police officer along with around 30 others.

district court
File Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

The five were given sentences between seven months and 37 months.

The incident took place in Tseung Kwan O, where a few dozen protesters set up roadblocks on an intersection. The protesters then surrounded a plainclothes police officer near a park at Tong Chun Street as some began beating him, Lee said in Cantonese.

The officer tried to escape from the crowd, but was chased down by a smaller group of around 10 protesters, including two of the accused. He was further kicked and hit with hard objects, which caused multiple injuries to his head and limbs, Lee said.

Lee ruled that as the plainclothes officer was falsely imprisoned and assaulted by protesters, the unlawful assembly had become a riot, that lasted for two minutes and involved a few dozen protesters. No public facilities were damaged, no others were injured, and there was no evidence to suggest the riot was premediated, Lee said.

“But the seriousness of the incident lies in the false imprisonment and bodily harm done to an on-duty police officer, whose personal safety should be protected by the law,” Lee added.

The five defendants faced various charges including false imprisonment, participating in an unlawful assembly, rioting, breaching a mask ban, and wounding.

Married couple Lau Man-chuen, a 28-year-old construction worker, and Crystal Lam, a 33-year-old company owner, and insurance worker Ng Yuen-ching, 25, pleaded guilty before the trial began in May and consequently had their sentences reduced by a quarter.

Hong Kong police clear barricades set up by protesters in the Tseung Kwan O area of Kowloon in Hong Kong on October 13, 2019. Hong Kong riot police on October 13 skirmished with small groups of masked pro-democracy protesters who held flashmob gatherings in multiple locations -- although crowds were smaller and less violent than recent weekends. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)
Hong Kong police clear barricades set up by protesters in the Tseung Kwan O area of Kowloon in Hong Kong on October 13, 2019. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP.

Lau was sentenced to a total of 30 months in prison for false imprisonment, wounding, and rioting. Lam was sentenced to seven months in prison for unlawful assembly. Ng was sentenced to 27 months in prison for wounding and rioting.

Lo Ka-yan, a 25-year-old student, was found guilty of false imprisonment and participating in an unlawful assembly. Lui Ngai-kai, a 30-year-old IT worker, was found guilty of false imprisonment, wounding, rioting and breaching the mask ban.

Discretion would also be offered to those found guilty at trial, as the riot in question was of a smaller scale and the police officer did not sustain permanent injuries, Lee said.

Lo was given a total prison term of 10 months. Lui received the heaviest sentence of 37 months.

A sixth defendant in this case, a 17-year-old surnamed Wong, has pleaded guilty in another case in which he and three others – including Tsang Chi-kin, who was shot by the police during the 2019 protests – hid in a safehouse for two years before being arrested and charged for perverting the course of justice. Sentencing in that case is set to be handed down on October 18.

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.

Lee postponed Wong’s sentencing for his role in falsely imprisoning an officer to October 20, while the court awaits reports from rehabilitation centre, detention centre, and training centre.

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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Hans Tse is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in local politics, academia, and media transformation. He was previously a social science researcher, with writing published in the Social Movement Studies and Social Transformation of Chinese Societies journals. He holds an M.Phil in communication from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Before joining HKFP, He also worked as a freelance reporter for Initium between 2019 and 2021, where he covered the height - and aftermath - of the 2019 protests, as well as the sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.