A Hong Kong judge has called for an investigation after prosecutors claimed that some video footage linked to a rioting case during the 2019 Yuen Long mob attacks was released by an online media outlet ahead of the trial.

District Judge Stanley Chan on Monday urged the police to look into whether the legal representatives of seven men accused of rioting in Yuen Long in July 2019 had breached their professional code, local media reported.

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

Chan’s remarks emerged on the 10th day of a trial over an alleged riot on July 21, 2019, when over 100 rod-wielding men in white shirts stormed Yuen Long MTR station leaving 45 people injured – including journalists, protesters, commuters and then-pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting.

Lam was arrested in August 2020 and charged with participating in a riot in Yuen Long along with six other defendants. He stands accused of going to Yuen Long with the express purpose of provoking the white-clad men. He pleaded not guilty to the charge earlier this month when the 25-day trial began.

According to local media, the prosecution on Monday called an anonymous witness to the stand to testify against the accused. Senior Public Prosecutor Jasmine Ching expressed concern that the witness may be identified, as CCTV footage from the Yuen Long MTR station was recently made public by the media.

Chan followed up by asking which news outlet released the clips in question. The prosecutor said it was an online outlet which was “not very well-known” and later told the court that it was The Collective. She cited articles by the outlet in early October, which included a clip that tracked police presence during the attacks, local media reported.

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Stanley Chan. File photo: Judiciary.

Ching went on to say that the footage was not public and claimed that the videos were surveillance clips from the case. She added the clips were listed among court documents related to the case and suspected that someone leaked the videos to the press.

The district judge responded by saying that if a majority of the videos posted by the online outlet were from the court documents, then it was very likely that the defence lawyers were involved. Local media reported Chan as saying speculation that someone shared the clips may be substantiated.

The judge also raised questions over why the videos were published a week before the trial. Solely based on speculation, someone may intend to subject the prosecution witness to harassment, cyberbullying or even physical injury, Chan said, according to local media reports.

“The court is extremely concerned, there is a need for an investigation,” Chan said in Cantonese.

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Yuen Long MTR station on July 28, 2019. Photo: May James/HKFP.

According to Ming Pao, Lam’s lawyer told the court that the CCTV was owned by the MTR Corporation and the defence had no idea how the transport company dealt with the clips. Other defence counsels said the clips could be evidence in other cases linked to the Yuen Long incident and said they hoped the police would also look into whether the press obtained the footage through the prosecution or police.

HKFP has reached out to The Collective for comment.

In response to HKFP’s enquiries, police said they would not comment on individual incidents and would enforce the law according to established procedures, taking into consideration the evidence and the specific circumstances.

The Yuen Long mob attacks marked a turning point in the months-long extradition bill protests which erupted in 2019, sparked by a controversial extradition. The public criticised the police for responding slowly to the incident, with some officers seen leaving the scene or interacting with the white-clad men. The official account of the incident evolved over a year, with the authorities eventually claiming it was a “gang fight.”

Although there were “deficiencies in police deployment and other police action in response to the events,” there was no evidence of collusion with criminals “despite our best efforts in searching publicly available sources,” the Independent Police Complaints Council said in May 2020 in a 999-page report on police behaviour during the 2019 protests.

The Collective was launched in February this year by veteran journalists Bao Choy and Ken Lui Tsz-lok. In June, Choy ended a long legal battle the Court of Final Appeal quashed her conviction for making false statements linked to accessing vehicle records for a documentary about the 2019 Yuen Long mob attacks.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.