HK protests: seven more cleared of riot charges as judge rules black clothing, protective gear no proof of participation

31-Oct-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 1:02 PM Print This Post

Seven more people accused of rioting during a major anti-government protest in August of last year have been acquitted of all charges by a Hong Kong court.

District Judge Sham Siu-man on Saturday concluded there was no evidence showing what the defendants did before their arrests in Wan Chai, and ruled their presence alone was not enough to justify a conviction, even if they had been dressed in black and equipped with protective gear.

“Undoubtedly, the situation of the night in question was not something that one would often see in Hong Kong,” the judge said. “To some people, it was perhaps a rare and special historical moment. The Court does not rule out the possibility that, among those present, there were indeed some who went there hoping to witness everything that was happening.”

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Seven acquitted of rioting charges on Saturday were arrested during a violent protest in Wan Chai in August 2019. (SCMP/Sam Tsang)

Seven acquitted of rioting charges on Saturday were arrested during a violent protest in Wan Chai in August 2019. (SCMP/Sam Tsang)

Sham also sided with the defence in ruling there could be innocent reasons for flight before arrests, including leaving in response to a police warning, a spontaneous reaction to swarms of people on the move, or “out of fear of the police” due to the social environment at the time in question.

“Their being participants of the riot is not the only reasonable inference,” he concluded. “The court is of the view that the prosecution has failed to prove the offences beyond reasonable doubt and therefore the court finds all the defendants not guilty.”

A round of applause erupted in the courtroom as the judge announced the acquittals.

Many supporters also waited outside the building, thanking lawyers and cheering for the acquitted as they walked free from court.

“There are no rioters,” they chanted.

The same court had earlier dismissed the charge against their co-defendant, 42-year-old social worker Jackie Chen Hung-sau, after finding prosecutors failed to prove a prima facie case against her when they accused her of rioting by calling for police to calm down.

The latest verdict brings the total number of acquittals on riot charges to 11.

Only one protester has been found guilty of rioting since the anti-government movement gripped the city in June 2019, with four others convicted after pleading guilty.

Saturday’s District Court case centred on violent clashes around the junction of Hennessy Road and Luard Road on August 31, 2019, when scores of protesters assembled in the area, hurling petrol bombs and setting roadblocks including spectator stands removed from the nearby Southorn Playground on fire.

Police responded with tear gas and water cannon, and arrested 142 people that day.

All eight defendants were arrested on site as officers advanced towards the crowds following multiple warnings for them to disperse or face arrest.

Each pleaded not guilty to one count of rioting, an offence punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment, but capped at seven when the case is heard at the District Court.

Prosecutors alleged the assembly at the junction escalated into a riot no later than 7.52pm and accused all eight men and women of being participants, judging from their black attire and protective gear.

But defence lawyers observed that prosecutors had no evidence showing how their clients had taken part in the riot, arguing their presence alone could not justify a conviction when there were also observers and passers-by at the scene.

The eight defendants were social worker Chen; computer programmer Chung Ka-nang, 26; cook Jason Gung Tsz-shun, 22; delivery worker Kan Ka-hong; 18, student Lai Pui-ki, 22; kitchen casual worker Leung Ngan-pan, 24; social worker Mok Ka-ching, 23; and self-employed Yu Tak-wing, 23.

Gung was further acquitted of one count of possession of an offensive weapon in a public place, after the judge concluded there was no independent evidence proving the petrol bomb and extendable baton were seized from his backpack as alleged by a sergeant, whose oral testimony did not reconcile with footage of the arrest.

As of October 15, police have arrested more than 10,100 people and charged 2,285 of them, with 691 among them facing a riot charge.


Category: Hong Kong

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