A Hong Kong man has been jailed for five weeks over obstruction of police at Prince Edward MTR station during the protests and unrest of 2019.

august 31 china extradition
Prince Edward MTR station on August 31, 2019. Photo: May James/HKFP.

Hui Siu-cheung, who earlier pleaded guilty to the offence, appeared at Kowloon City Magistrates’ Courts on Monday.

The defendant was among the commuters at Prince Edward MTR station on August 31, 2019, when police officers charged onto the platform and train carriages after a day of citywide protests, the court heard. Hui was said to have thrown an umbrella towards police while they were subduing another man.

Magistrate Kestrel Lam said he accepted that Hui was only passing by and had no intention to participate in a protest or face off with police officers, The Witness reported. But he said chaos had broken out on the subway platform, and Hui’s act of throwing an umbrella could have added fuel to the fire.

Kowloon City Magistrates' Courts
Kowloon City Law Courts Building. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Lam handed Hui, who was 29 when he was charged, a starting point of nine weeks in jail. Taking into account his guilty plea, as well as the stress he had suffered as a result of the case, Lam discounted the sentence to a five-week term.

Protest flashpoint

On August 31, 2019, baton-wielding riot police stormed Prince Edward MTR station following hours of protest clashes. Officers were filmed pepper-spraying people in carriages as they drove away reporters and medics. Discrepancies in official records of injuries and the closure of the station fuelled unverified rumours of civilian deaths. The police watchdog largely cleared the Force of wrongdoing but faced criticism for lacking independence and investigatory powers.

Hui was among 16 defendants charged in May, almost four years after the incident. Earlier in mitigation, Hui’s lawyer argued that the defendant acted in impulse, and that the umbrella did not hit any police officers. The defence also said that, while Hui was tormented since the incident four years ago, he did not give up on himself and excelled academically, becoming an actuary upon graduation from university.

The defence had suggested a longer community service order for Hui as an alternative to imprisonment.

Lam, however, said the offence was serious and that officers should be protected in their line of duty. A community service order was not enough to reflect the severity of the offence, he added.

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Outside Prince Edward station on August 31. Photo: May James/HKFP.

Including Hui, nine of the 16 who were charged in May in relation to the subway incident pleaded guilty. Three of them – Lau Hung-fat, Lai Cheuk-yu and Choi Long-yin – were charged with possessing offensive weapons and were handed the heaviest sentence of three months in jail. The weapons in question were laser pens.

Nine others pleaded not guilty and will go to trial later this year and in January, The Witness reported.

Hong Kong saw large-scale protests in June 2019 over a since-axed extradition bill. The demonstrations escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. 

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

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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.