Hong Kong protests: magistrate rejects jail term request for university student ordered to undergo correctional training

Brian Wong
·3-min read

A university student who asked for jail time over correctional training for his involvement in an illegal protest in Hong Kong had his request rejected on Monday by a magistrate, who found it necessary to raise the youth’s legal awareness through compulsory learning programmes.

West Kowloon Court sentenced Choi Chung-hei, a student of Polytechnic University, to correctional training for up to nine months, after he was convicted of taking part in an unlawful assembly and carrying a bottle of spray paint with intent to commit vandalism on New Year’s Eve of 2019.

The defence counsel for the Year Three physiotherapy student asked the presiding magistrate for a short term behind bars to enable his client to begin a hospital internship in May, which was a prerequisite for his graduation.

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But the magistrate said he was bound by the law to prioritise alternative sentencing options in cases involving young offenders, adding that correctional training could serve both purposes of rehabilitation and deterrence.

The trial heard Choi was one of 30 protesters who assembled at the junction of Nathan Road and Lai Chi Kok Road on the night of December 31, 2019, marking the four-month anniversary of an incident in which police chased protesters into Prince Edward MTR station.

Choi was wearing an all-black outfit and carrying a pair of forceps when police spotted him. Officers later found a respirator and a bottle of spray paint in his backpack, after subduing him on the ground.

In Monday’s mitigation, defence lawyer Brian Tsui Ho-chuen said his client had expected to start interning at a hospital in May, which was a “critical component” of his curriculum. Tsui urged the court to consider passing a short jail term so Choi could come out of prison in four months and complete his degree on schedule.

Police outside Prince Edward MTR station on August 31, 2019. Photo: Edmond So
Police outside Prince Edward MTR station on August 31, 2019. Photo: Edmond So

However, Magistrate Jeffrey Sze Cho-yiu cited Section 109A of the Criminal Procedure Ordinance, which bars the court from sending a person aged below 21 to prison unless no other sentencing option is appropriate. He also cited Choi’s probation officer, who recommended sentencing the student to Lai Chi Rehabilitation Centre on Lantau Island in order to make him a law-abiding citizen.

“The rehabilitation centre is obviously an appropriate option to the defendant. I have no other choice,” Sze said.

Choi will spend two to five months at the Lantau Island institution before serving an extra one to four months at Lai Hang Rehabilitation Centre in Shek Kip Mei. The Correctional Services Department will determine the exact period of detention depending on his performance.

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In a separate case, a transport worker accused of carrying a laser pointer near a police station and resisting arrest has been acquitted, after the magistrate ruled the arresting officer’s evidence was unreasonable.

Chen Cheuk-kit, 49, was charged with possessing an offensive weapon in a public place, as well as resisting a police officer, outside Prince Edward station on the night of September 22, 2019. He has accused officers of using unlawful force when the latter escorted him to the nearby Mong Kok Police Station.

Magistrate Sze, who also presided over Chen’s trial, rejected his defence that he used the laser pointer as a torch at work. However, he also snubbed the testimony of the arresting officer, who claimed Chen had injured his forehead after trying to run away while he was handcuffed inside the station. The magistrate gave the benefit of doubt to the defendant.

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