A Hong Kong judge on Monday opened a trial related to 2019’s anti-government protests with a warning against any displays of political statements, suggesting they were inappropriate in such a solemn context as criminal proceedings in a court of law.
District Judge Stanley Chan Kwong-chi also reminded members of the public in his courtroom not to jeer or make noise, before prosecutors began presenting their case against four defendants accused of taking part in an unlawful assembly in Whampoa in August of 2019.
Opening the hearing, Chan – the only District Court judge publicly known to have been designated to handle national security cases – told those present: “The court will not accept, or allow, any tools and documents bearing political statements.”
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His pointed reminders came a week after a different judge removed people wearing yellow masks bearing the acronym “FDNOL” – a likely reference to the protest slogan “Five demands, not one less” – from his courtroom to prevent the hearing from turning into what he termed “a venue for political disputes and tussles”.
That decision sparked debate among legal scholars and experts. While some argued the district judge, Ernest Lin Kam-hung, was entitled to ban silent political protests in the courtroom, others urged him to exercise his power more proportionately.
Monday’s case, meanwhile, centred on a flash-mob protest in the residential district of Whampoa at about 11.50pm on August 10, 2019, which followed similar protests in the nearby areas of Hung Hom, Tsim Sha Tsui, Yau Ma Tei and Kowloon Tong.
All four defendants had been dressed in black and were arrested on site, but pleaded not guilty to a joint charge of taking part in an unlawful assembly.
They are security guard Cheong Hon-tung, 25, audio technician Andrew Yiu Tsz-ho, 22, student Tong Kin-lung, 19, and a 14-year-old student whose name is being withheld by the Post.
Cheong also pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting police and possessing explosives, while he and Yiu both denied additional charges of possession of an offensive weapon.
Prosecutor Memi Ng said some 50 people had assembled on the night in question and set up roadblocks at Hung Hom Road, Tak On Street and Tak Man Street, prompting residents to call police.
Among the first to arrive was Senior Constable Lam Kin-tak, who testified to driving to the scene at Tak Man Street just after midnight on August 11 to find the crowds flashing blue and green lasers at him, causing discomfort to his eyes that lasted about two days.
His commander, Senior Inspector Chan Hiu-chi, said he ordered a clearance operation after the crowds ignored his verbal warnings to disperse.
Security camera footage played in court showed many black-clad individuals at that point retreated to the nearby MTR station’s Exit A.
Chan said he noticed Cheong among them carrying what he later understood to be a catapult, and shouted for him – and his 14-year-old co-defendant, who was running alongside him – to stop. Cheong, however, allegedly proved unwilling to follow instructions, while the 14-year-old girl sat down by a staircase.
Another officer then took over the girl’s arrest while Chan chased after Cheong, with both men slipping and falling more than a dozen steps down the station staircase.
A third officer, Lo Chun-yip, subsequently offered assistance but was allegedly kicked in the head by Cheong, leaving him with a bloody lip.
The prosecutor said Cheong was finally subdued after two other officers joined in.
Cheong was allegedly found to be carrying seven smoke cakes – capable of emitting pyrotechnic effects – in his backpack, plus a knife and a bag of pellets in a bag he was wearing around his waist.
Yiu was also arrested inside the station, allegedly with a laser pen in his trouser pocket and a catapult in his waist bag, while Tong was intercepted at nearby Man Siu Street by an off-duty police officer.
The trial continues on Tuesday.
This article Hong Kong judge opens protest-related trial with warning against political displays first appeared on South China Morning Post