Two Hong Kong police officers have been jailed for up to 32 months for torturing a 62-year-old man under arrest and strapped to a hospital bed, while their colleague was sentenced to 17 months for not stopping them.
District Judge Johnny Chan Jong-herng said Au Kwok-wai, 26, and Tang Man-him, 25, “badly assaulted and humiliated” their victim as he lay defenceless on a New Territories hospital bed last June.
Chan also found that Lam Yik-sing, 31, had “walked away from the evil scene with a callous indifference”, despite being victim Chung Chi-wah’s “only lifeline”, adding his dereliction of duty exposed the man to further abuse and sealed the fate of all three officers.
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Sentencing at the District Court on Friday, the judge said Au and Tang had “tortured Mr Chung [Chi-wah] for a prolonged period” through their “inhuman and humiliating treatment”.
While Chung might have assaulted a sergeant before his arrest and kicked Au in hospital, the judge said the man’s conduct was “no excuse to any extrajudicial punishment by police officers”.
“The actions of [Au] and [Tang] and the non-action of [Lam] will have shaken everyone’s faith not only in the Hong Kong Police Force but in the rule of the law itself,” the judge continued.
“It is regrettable that the defendants thought that their police duty was something that could be shelved when no one was watching, when their public office required that they must carry out their police duties faithfully.”
The District Court previously heard the shocking 23-minute assault was mounted in a room for disturbed patients at North District Hospital in Sheung Shui on June 26, 2019, after Chung was arrested for punching a sergeant who was mediating his drunken row with a passer-by.
The judge on Friday concluded the three officers were “in flagrant breach of their police duty” and must be sentenced to a deterrent term of immediate imprisonment for breaking the law – they were entrusted to uphold – in “such a deliberate and shocking way”.
But he also recognised their remorse in their mitigation letters and that they were all young men with previously unblemished records.
Extrajudicial punishment should have no place in Hong Kong
District Judge Johnny Chan
He adopted a starting point for sentence at four years for Au and Tang, after finding their assault, especially the latter’s “vicious and appalling” use of his baton, more serious than the case of the seven police officers attacking activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu during an Occupy protest in 2014.
Both men were given a full one-third discount for their guilty pleas to the charge of misconduct in public office.
While Au was jailed for 32 months, Tang was given an additional one-month discount after his lawyers revealed that he and his family had been suffering from internet doxxing as a result of the incident. He was ultimately sentenced to 31 months in prison.
“Extrajudicial punishment should have no place in Hong Kong,” the judge added.
Lam, who was convicted of the same charge after trial over his failure to perform his duty, was found to have lesser culpability and given a lower starting point of 18 months, with a one-month reduction in light of his clear record.
That offence is punishable by a maximum of seven years in prison.
Au has been suspended from duty while Tang was discharged from the force and Lam resigned. A police spokesman said the force would follow up on Au’s case in accordance with established procedures
Former Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, who had helped expose the incident, said while the sentence sent a clear message to law enforcement officers, it could not make up for the psychological harm inflicted upon the victim.
Lam said he believed Chung’s assault was “only the tip of the iceberg” and there must be an in-depth and objective inquiry into police’s use of force in the past year, with a new independent monitoring system to correct what he called a corrupt culture.
“We urge the police force, especially commissioner [Chris Tang Ping-keung], to publicly apologise for the wrongdoings of those evil police officers and to compensate the victim reasonably,” the ex-lawmaker said after the hearing.
The officers’ conduct last summer was clearly captured on camera and the footage widely circulated at a time when police were already under fire for their use of force while handling last year’s anti-government protests.
Au was caught pinching Chung’s genitals, pulling his leg hair, covering his mouth and nose with a blanket, shining a flashlight in his eyes and inserting a baton in his mouth.
Meanwhile, Tang was recorded lifting Chung’s top – which was then shoved into his mouth – yanking his hair, pulling his underwear down, and using a baton to touch Chung’s face, hit his genitals and jab at his buttocks.
The officers also threatened to “mess up” Chung’s wife and to “come back to teach [him] another lesson soon”.
The court heard Chung got so scared that he wanted to commit suicide, and tried harming himself by banging his head against the bed frame.
Prosecutors said the assault left Chung with bruises and abrasions, as well as adjustment disorder. He also experienced depression, difficulty sleeping, loss of motivation, constant irritation, feelings of helplessness and social withdrawal in the aftermath.
At the mitigation hearing last week, Au’s lawyer said he felt “very sorry” and deeply regretted his conduct, which was described as out of character.
Au also explained that he had assaulted Chung because the retiree had kicked him in the corner of his mouth and he was aggrieved by his superiors’ decision not to press further charges.
Defence counsel David Boyton further revealed that his client Tang had overreacted upon seeing Au being assaulted.
Boyton said the two men had been very close since 2018, after Tang helped remove the body of Au’s grandfather, who had committed suicide by hanging himself at Sheung Shui MTR station.
Defence counsel Juliana Chow Hoi-ling added that Lam was apologetic for his momentary lapse of judgment during the two minutes he was in the room.
Chung has sued all three officers for an unspecified sum of damages over the incident.
That civil case will return to the District Court on March 9 next year .
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