A Hong Kong court has sentenced three fugitive protesters who hid in safehouses and a man who helped conceal them for up to one year and eight months in jail for perverting the course of justice.

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

Tsang Chi-kin, Ansen Wong, Alex Wong and Yip Ho appeared at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court for the District Court case on Wednesday.

Tsang and the two Wongs were among four men arrested in Sai Kung last July as they attempted to escape to Taiwan by boat. Before that, the four – who faced charges related to the protests and unrest in 2019 – had spent two years hiding in safehouses.

They were found guilty of perverting the course of justice after failing to attend court dates linked to the protest charges.

Yip was accused of assisting the group and transferring them between locations.

Delivering the sentences on Wednesday, judge Ada Yim said even though Ho did not initially know the people he was concealing were wanted, his offence was more serious as he enabled them to hide.

Ho, 35, was given the heaviest sentence of 20 months in jail. Tsang, 22, and Ansen Wong, 23, were jailed for 11 months and two weeks, and 10 months, respectively.

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.

Seventeen-year-old Alex Wong was sentenced to a training centre, an alternative to imprisonment for young offenders. Before Yim handed down the sentences, the teen’s barrister appealed to the judge to consider sending his client to a detention centre, which has a maximum detention period of six months for people below the age of 20, compared to three years for training centres.

The four defendants have already been detained for 15 months since their arrests last July.

They pleaded guilty in September. The three fugitive protesters have also been charged with protest-related offences which were being handled separately.

An hour before being sentenced for perverting the course of justice, Tsang was handed a three and a half year jail term over charges of rioting and attacking a police officer during a protest on National Day in 2019. Tsang was shot by a police officer that day.

Tsang Chi-kin
Tsang Chi-kin. Photo: Supplied.

Yim said five months from Tsang’s perverting justice sentence would be served separately from the jail terms relating to his protest charges, meaning he will serve a total of 47 months in prison.

Fung Ching-wah, who also hid out in safehouses with the other three, pleaded guilty to rioting and perverting the course of justice in August. He was sentenced to four years in jail last month, with the judge saying he had “brought this onto himself.”

Perverting the course of justice does not have a maximum punishment, with the courts given discretion to impose any imprisonment term or fine depending on the severity of the offence. Cases heard at District Court carry a maximum jail sentence of seven years.

Two-year hideout

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.

Hong Kong Police
The Hong Kong Police Force emblem. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Police officers said the four were shuttled between safehouses in cardboard boxes. A group supported them with money raised via a crowdfunding site, police said, but added they had stopped giving them food or paying rent.

Yim said in court on Wednesday that Ho was employed by a the owners of a YouTube channel that was said to have gathered donations. But Yim noted that he did not arrange the attempted escape to Taiwan.

He ceased working for the channel in August 2021, and later found a job as a warehouse worker, Yim said.

july 28 may james china extradition best of
A protest in 2019. File photo: May James/HKFP.

Besides Ansen Wong, who had a criminal damage charge dating back to 2016, none of the other defendants had any criminal record prior to the 2019 protests.

The activists were said to have paid the group HK$400,000 to help them flee the city. But most members of the group who received the sum fled Hong Kong before actually securing an escape route for the fugitives, national security police said.

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.