A man who claimed to be a voluntary paramedic after he was arrested during a major anti-government demonstration in Hong Kong last year has been convicted of rioting and remanded in custody ahead of sentencing.
But the District Court acquitted six other co-defendants on Monday after refusing to convict them based solely on “indirect” evidence, such as their black attire and appearance near the protest scene, when there was no other proof they had caused a disturbance.
Transport worker Chan Cho-ho, 25, is the first defendant to be found guilty of rioting over the violent clashes on the night of August 31, 2019, when an unauthorised rally from Wan Chai to Central descended into chaos across Hong Kong Island. He was also found guilty of carrying a walkie-talkie without the required licence.
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Chan is the second resident to be convicted at trial of rioting in relation to last year’s social unrest, which was sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill. Six others have pleaded guilty to rioting offences without going to trial. The offence is punishable by 10 years in prison.
A total of 17 defendants have been acquitted of rioting, including the six who were cleared on Monday: businessman King Kwan-hing, 34; students Lau Yu-hin, 23, Kwok Mei-kwan and Hui Chi-yui, both 22; renovation worker Chan Tse-yan, 41; and Chow Wing-lam, 25.
The present case centred on clashes near the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay, where 300 protesters, most of whom wore black clothes and protective gear, confronted police, with some hurling petrol bombs and setting roadblocks on fire.
Police responded with tear gas and water cannons, arresting 142 people that day.
Despite a lack of direct evidence proving the defendants’ involvement, prosecutors asked the court to convict them by referring to their black outfits, locations of their arrests, and attempts to flee.
But District Judge Frankie Yiu Fun-che ruled that even though the six appeared likely to have taken part in the riot due to their black outfits, it was not the only inference that could be made.
It was particularly true in the case of Chan Tse-yan and Chow, who were only arrested 20 minutes after police started dispersing protesters in the area.
The prosecution also had no solid evidence to show the remaining four defendants who were acquitted had run away from police to avoid apprehension, especially when some were seen running in the officers’ direction, the judge added.
“In the absence of further evidence, all I can say is that it was very likely that they did participate in the riot,” Yiu said.
“The standard of proof in criminal proceedings is very high … With such indirect evidence, I am of the view that the prosecution failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In contrast, Yiu found Chan Cho-ho must have taken part in the clashes, as he was arrested shortly after police began the clearance operation that night.
The judge concluded that Chan would not have been able to provide effective first aid at the scene while only carrying six rolls of bandages in his backpack. Instead, he must have intended to use the protective gear he had with him, including a chest guard, arm bracers, a respirator, a helmet and a pair of goggles, to take part in the riot.
He remanded Chan in custody before sentencing him on January 18, pending a background report.
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