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A jobless man has been jailed for 14½ years for biting off a former politician’s outer ear, slashing another person in the stomach and assaulting two others during Hong Kong’s social unrest in 2019.
Former merchant Joe Chen, 52, returned to the High Court on Tuesday to be sentenced on three counts of wounding with intent and one of common assault. The incidents were committed outside Cityplaza mall in Quarry Bay on November 3 that year.
A jury comprising three men and four women convicted the defendant of all the charges last December over the attacks on former district councillor Andrew Chiu Ka-yin, Louis Wan Ho-lun, his wife Leung Pik-kei and Leung’s cousin Leung Ying-ying.
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Madam Justice Judianna Barnes accepted the defence’s submission that Chen had gone on a rampage under the influence of alcohol, but noted the incident had left all his victims with grave injuries, both physically and psychologically.
In particular, the judge noted that Chiu had sustained permanent damage to the outer part of his left ear and could not wear an ordinary facial covering during the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the use of a prosthetic implant.
“It was a very barbaric act. It was truly incredible, to be honest,” Barnes said, adding the knife wounds suffered by Wan were “very shocking”.
Last year’s trial heard the attacks occurred in the evening when protesters assembled at the mall for a peaceful demonstration that had drawn a police presence.
Sporting a grey T-shirt, Chen was heard shouting outside the mall in Mandarin and Cantonese: “Restore Taiwan”, before reacting angrily to Wan’s profanities directed at him and slashing the latter in the stomach with a fruit knife.
The defendant had then turned to Wan’s relatives, stabbing his wife and beating her cousin to the ground.
Chiu, who was then an Eastern District Council member, came to the group’s aid and tried to stop an emotional Chen from charging towards the crowd behind him, only for the man to hold his head “like a bowling ball” and bite his left ear. Onlookers separated the pair before Chen could bite the former politician again.
Chen’s lawyers presented a range of defences during the trial – from provocation and self-defence to insanity – but failed to convince the jury he had no intention to inflict grievous bodily harm on his victims.
The attack left Wan in critical condition, having sustained multiple injuries across his upper body, including to his back, left shoulder, neck and the area around his navel, while his wife suffered several stab wounds to her back.
Chiu underwent reattachment surgery for his left ear later that night, but it turned black a week later due to poor blood flow, with doctors forced to replace it with a prosthetic.
Chen was also assaulted by several vigilantes and sent to hospital after his arrest to undergo head surgery.
Clinical psychologists have diagnosed the three victims from Wan’s family with post-traumatic stress disorder, while Chiu currently requires counselling for stress and concentration difficulties.
Psychologists also concluded that Chen had a moderate risk of reoffending, citing his lack of reflection on his drinking habits, as he had continued to consume alcohol even after previously pointing a knife at his wife while inebriated.
In mitigation, Senior Counsel Arthur Luk Yee-shun said his client, Chen, had battled depression and other mental issues since his relocation to Hong Kong from Hawaii in 2010, as he could not find employment after his small business had failed.
Born and raised in Guangdong province, Chen had relied on his savings and income from investments to support himself, his wife and his younger daughter, who has autism, while his elder daughter works in the United States.
In a letter to the court, Chen’s wife said that she and the couple’s younger child had become the target of doxxing attacks and were afraid of going out ever since the incident.
The family has also encountered financial difficulties following Chen’s arrest, Luk said, with his flat sold to pay HK$1.9 million (US$242,244) in damages to Chiu. The defendant was still in the progress of settling the remaining claims filed by the other three victims.
In sentencing, the judge initially opted for a jail term of 15 years, but knocked half a year off in light of Chen’s own injuries and the impact the case had on him and his family.
Prosecutors have also charged six men, aged 20 to 61, for rioting and assaulting Chen during the November 3 incident. The defendants will stand trial in the District Court and face up to seven years in jail if convicted.
Separately, Chiu is among 47 people facing subversion charges for allegedly flouting the national security law by organising or taking part in an unofficial primary election for the Legislative Council in 2020. He is awaiting a High Court trial behind bars.
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