HK protests: prosecutors urge court to proceed with trial of student in her absence, after she fled city following arrest, but judge questions fairness

22-Apr-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 7:03 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong prosecutors have asked a court to proceed with the trial of a university student in her absence, after she fled the city following her arrest in a 2019 anti-government protest, but the presiding judge has questioned if this will violate the defendant’s right to a fair proceeding.

The prosecution on Tuesday requested that the District Court determine Wong Ting-tao’s involvement in a violent stand-off between protesters and police at Chinese University (CUHK) on November 12, 2019, at a trial of four other tertiary students facing rioting charges over the same incident.

The court heard the CUHK student had not been prosecuted but was put on police’s wanted list, as she absconded hours after she was released on bail on November 14 that year.

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Prosecuting counsel-on-fiat Adonis Cheung Kam-wing suggested the court could still make factual findings concerning Wong’s participation in the riot, as it would not prejudice the four defendants in the present proceedings.

But Judge Clement Lee Hing-nin expressed reservation over the idea, saying he feared it would interfere with Wong’s right to a fair trial, protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as applied in Hong Kong via the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

The covenant stipulates that in the determination of any criminal charge, the accused shall be entitled to stand trial.

“I cannot convince myself to make findings of fact concerning a person who has not been charged unless there are reasonable explanations, but I have not heard any,” Lee said. “The prosecution should consider whether a trial in her absence is in line with justice.”

Cheung said he would reconsider his request before the trial resumed on Wednesday.

The four defendants are: CUHK student Chan Hey-hang, 22; Polytechnic University student Lee Chun-ho, 25; vocational school student Cheung Chun-ho, 19; and CUHK student Tang Hei-man, 24. They were the first group of defendants to stand trial over the unrest at the university, which marked one of the most violent episodes of the 2019 protest movement.

They were accused of rioting alongside Wong in the vicinity of the No 2 bridge at CUHK’s Sha Tin campus, with all except Lee facing a further charge of using a facial covering at an unlawful assembly.

Cheung, who studied at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, was also charged with possessing an offensive weapon in a public place after he was found with a laser pointer at the scene.

The prosecution said the clashes followed a day of citywide protests on November 11, in which demonstrators crippled Tolo Highway and the nearby MTR East Rail line by throwing objects from the bridge. Police dispersed protesters later that day and cordoned off the road to prevent further disruption.

Protesters returned to the bridge at 11am on November 12, shining lasers at police and shouting abuse from behind a makeshift barricade. Some protesters also cursed at officers while hiding behind a bush.

The illegal gathering escalated into a riot at around 3pm, according to prosecutors, as protesters hurled petrol bombs, bricks and miscellaneous items at officers who were retreating to the other side of the bridge. Police began arresting people 20 minutes later, apprehending Wong and the four suspects.

The 12-day trial will centre on whether the prosecution can prove the four defendants’ involvement in the riot by relying solely on circumstantial evidence, and whether they were at an unlawful assembly when they covered their faces that day. Cheung’s lawyer is also expected to argue police had mishandled the laser pointer seized from him.


Category: Hong Kong

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