Six people have been jailed for five years over rioting near a Hong Kong university that saw intense clashes during the protests and unrest in 2019.

November 18 Dylan Hollingsworth yau ma tei
A protest in Yau Ma Tei on November 18, 2019. Photo: Dylan Hollingsworth/HKFP.

Chan Yin-wang, Teresa Cheung, Chu Kwok-chi, Dao Manh-hieu, Xavier Ko and Lan Fung-chi appeared at District Court on Tuesday. They were found guilty in July of taking part in a riot near Waterloo Road, Hamilton Road and Nathan Road in Yau Ma Tei on November 18, 2019.

That week, protesters and police officers were locked in an intense stand-off at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in neighbouring Hung Hom, as many answered online calls urging people to take to the streets to support those trapped on the campus.

Handing down the sentences, judge Adriana Noelle Tse Ching said protesters in Yau Ma Tei “advanced like an army” towards the police’s frontlines, hurling petrol bombs and bricks as well as setting fires, local media reported. The incident was one of the most violent riots in Hong Kong’s history, Tse added.

The judge took a starting point of five years, and said there were no mitigating factors to be considered.

"November 17" police arrow leg Hong Kong Polytechnic University
A bridge leading to the Hong Kong Polytechnic University that was set on fire on Nov. 17, 2019. Photo: Viola Kam/United Social Press.

Hong Kong saw large-scale protests that began in the summer of 2019 in response to a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to mainland China. The demonstrations soon ballooned into wider opposition against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, as well as alleged police brutality during towards demonstrators.

The clashes that centred around PolyU were among the most violent, with police firing almost 1,500 canisters of tear gas and nearly 1,400 rubber bullets as protesters lit fires and vandalised the campus.

‘In defiance of the law’

Delivering the jail terms on Tuesday, local media reported Tse saying the defendants had acted “in defiance of the law” and ignored police warnings. She said Nathan Road was a key thoroughfare with people living in the area, and that there was risk of endangering people on the scene. Four officers were injured and shops were unable to operate as they were forced to close, Tse added.

In response to an earlier defence argument that police officers were not hit by the petrol bombs thrown by protesters, Tse said a video showed one landing next to the foot of an officer, and that would have resulted in injury had the officer not reacted in time.

November 18 Dylan Hollingsworth yau ma tei
A protest in Yau Ma Tei on November 18, 2019. File photo: Dylan Hollingsworth/HKFP.

Tse, however, acknowledged that there was no evidence suggesting that the defendants had played a role in arranging, leading, calling for or inciting the riot.

Three other defendants in Tuesday’s case pleaded guilty to rioting earlier and were jailed for three years and nine months.

Over 10,250 protest-related arrests were made during the 2019 demonstrations, police said, about 40 per cent of whom were secondary school or university students.

Of those arrested, police said in February that 2,899 people had been charged. Apart from 800-odd people whose cases were serious and still being investigated, there were almost 6,500 who were yet to be charged.

In mid-March, Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu told reporters that police would announce within the month how they planned to deal with the remaining cases. Almost six months later, police told HKFP the cases were still being reviewed and they had no further updates.

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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.