Two former university student leaders have filed to appeal against their two-year jail sentences, handed down after they pleaded guilty to inciting wounding by expressing sympathy for a man who stabbed a police officer before taking his own life in July 2021.

HKU student leaders Kinson Cheung Yung Chung-hei District Court
Former HKU Student Union Council chairperson Kinson Cheung hugs former University of Hong Kong student leader Yung Chung-hei outside Hong Kong’s District Court in Wan Chai on September 20, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Kinson Cheung and Chris Todorovski, ex-leaders at the University of Hong Kong’s student union, applied to appeal the jail terms on Tuesday, local media reported. They were convicted last month along with two other student leaders, Charles Kwok and Anthony Yung.

No hearing dates have been scheduled for their appeals, according to the Judiciary’s website.

The four students, who were between 18 and 21 at the time of the incident, were initially charged over statements they made at a student union council meeting on July 7, 2021. There, the student body passed a motion to mourn the death of Leung Kin-fai, who took his life shortly after stabbing a police officer on July 1, when Hong Kong marked 24 years since its return to Chinese rule.

The motion was withdrawn just days after as the government and the university issued statements condemning the students for “beautifying” and “glorifying” violence. Kwok, then-president of the student union’s executive committee, apologised publicly and said members of the student body would step down.

The group was arrested and charged that August with advocating terrorism and an alternative charge of incitement to wound with intent. Terrorism, an offence under the national security law, could have seen them sentenced to 10 years behind bars if convicted.

Defendant’s remorse ‘doubtful’

At last month’s sentencing, District Judge Adriana Noelle Tse Ching said the four defendants had glorified violence and abused their powers as student leaders by “[publishing] the inciting words” via an official channel – a student union council meeting.

HKUSU student leader Chris Todorovski Charles Kwok Yung Chung-hei District Court Wan Chai
(From left to right) Former University of Hong Kong student leaders Yung Chung-hei, Charles Kwok and Chris Todorovski outside the District Court in Wan Chai on September 11, 2023. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The meeting, during which the leaders held a moment of silence for the attacker, was also broadcast live on social media channels, Tse said, adding that the students had held the meeting in “open defiance of the law” in spite of the government’s condemnation of the attack.

Cheung, who convened the meeting, had “tried to hide behind the need for impartiality” throughout proceedings, Tse wrote in her judgement last month. Tse also said she was “doubtful” about Cheung’s remorse, but noted that her reservations would not affect their sentence.

The court heard that the motion to mourn Leung was raised by then-union president Kwok and seconded by Todorovski. Tse said the motion “glorified [Leung’s] crime as a ‘sacrifice’ for Hong Kong.”

HKU Student Union Council chairperson Kinson Cheung.
HKU Student Union Council chairperson Kinson Cheung. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

They were set to plead not guilty and faced an eight-day trial, but prosecutors allowed the students to plead guilty to the alternative charge of incitement to wound. The offence is punishable by up to life imprisonment, although jail terms meted out by the District Court are capped at seven years. The terrorism charge was dropped.

The four pleaded guilty to incitement to wound with intent in September, and were taken into custody to await sentencing.

Tse handed down an initial jail term of 35 months, but deducted it on account of the defendants’ guilty pleas and their age to arrive at two years. She said, however, that the students’ “outstanding” academic backgrounds and clean records were not mitigating factors given the severity of the offence.

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James Lee is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in culture and social issues. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he witnessed the institution’s transformation over the course of the 2019 extradition bill protests and after the passing of the Beijing-imposed security law.

Since joining HKFP in 2023, he has covered local politics, the city’s housing crisis, as well as landmark court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial. He was previously a reporter at The Standard where he interviewed pro-establishment heavyweights and extensively covered the Covid-19 pandemic and Hong Kong’s political overhauls under the national security law.