A Hong Kong social worker accused of rioting by calling for police to calm down during an anti-government protest in August last year went free on Tuesday after a judge found she had no case to answer.
District Judge Sham Siu-man concluded that prosecutors failed to prove a prima facie case against Jackie Chen Hung-sau, 42, who had pleaded not guilty to a riot charge that stemmed from violent clashes in Wan Chai on August 31, last year.
“Even if the prosecution’s case was given the most favourable consideration, [the defendant’s] speech and conduct were not enough to constitute unlawful assembly, let alone riot,” Sham said.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
But the judge ruled there was a case to answer for Chen’s seven co-defendants, who subsequently declined to give evidence, bringing the trial to its next stage for closing submissions on October 8 and 9.
Hectar Pun Hei SC, defending Chen, applied for legal costs but prosecutor Adonis Cheung Kam-wing voiced objections, maintaining the social worker drew suspicion on herself by remaining at the scene despite repeated police warnings. The judge will rule on this application when he delivers his verdict on the other defendants.
Chen was the first defendant to go free at this stage of a riot trial, before the defence was required to present its case.
Four other men and women have been cleared of the same charge in two separate cases, but only after the trial judges ruled they had a case to answer, and found prosecutors had failed to reach the requisite standard of proof.
Cheung had previously accused the social worker of adding difficulty to police’s clearance work by using a speaker to shout provocative statements, such as calling on officers to calm down while protesters hurled bricks and petrol bombs at them.
But Pun argued there was no evidence of Chen displaying disorderly conduct, or the intention to breach public peace with the others on site, adding her attire and equipment on the day were also not enough to support a guilty verdict.
Leaving court, Chen said she felt happy but also conflicted towards the unexpected development.
“The moment I walked out I couldn’t hold back tears,” she said. “But I also felt reluctant to leave the dock because I was the only one.”
Chen said she had never expected to face such a serious charge of rioting when she first received police notice of prosecution at San Uk Ling Holding Centre following her arrest.
“I refused to sign it,” she said, “because I didn’t think I had taken part in a riot.”
The social worker said there are many different roles at the site of a protest, from humanitarian workers such as herself, to human rights monitors, and the press, who should not be considered participants simply because they were present.
“When we were there on site as social workers, there are things we wouldn’t do, there are things we wouldn’t say,” she said. “We are very clear about our duties to protect lives and safeguard human rights.”
But she would not comment on whether police had abused their powers of arrest or targeted social workers.
“I believe many Hongkongers will have their own answers,” she said.
This article Hong Kong protests: riot-accused social worker goes free as judge rules she has no case to answer first appeared on South China Morning Post