Three protesters have been convicted of rioting and other charges over an anti-government demonstration at Hong Kong’s airport two years ago, where a mainland Chinese journalist was assaulted.
The District Court on Wednesday held the trio responsible for the overnight chaos at the air hub between August 13 and 14, 2019, after the judge confirmed their involvement in the violence against Fu Guohao through media footage of the incident.
The judge acquitted a fourth defendant, however, after ruling the footage was not clear enough for his case.
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The latest verdict brings the number of defendants convicted at trial of rioting in relation to the social unrest in 2019 to five, compared to 17 acquittals. Eight others have pleaded guilty to the charge, punishable by 10 years in prison, without going to trial.
Wednesday’s case centred on Fu’s detention and assault at the height of a sit-in by protesters at the airport.
Protesters occupied concourses in a bid to paralyse flights and compel the government to withdraw the now-shelved extradition bill, which would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which the city lacked such an agreement, including mainland China.
The Airport Authority reported that nearly 1,000 flights were cancelled during the five-day protest that began on August 9, 2019, until it obtained a temporary court order banning any “unlawful and wilful obstruction”. The order remains effective.
The four defendants – part-time waiter Lai Yun-long, 20, Amy Pat Wai-fan, 25, unemployed, part-time construction worker Ho Ka-lok, 30, and surveyor Wong Yat-ho, 29 – faced a total of eight counts of various charges, including rioting, unlawful assembly, false imprisonment and inflicting grievous bodily harm.
Prosecutors alleged Wong took part in an unlawful assembly in the departure hall at 11pm on August 13, 2019, when Fu, who works for a sister site under state-owned newspaper Global Times, was besieged by protesters who were suspicious about his identity.
Wong was accused of being part of a group that restrained Fu on a baggage cart with plastic zip ties, after the 29-year-old claimed he was merely a tourist.
The illegal assembly escalated into a riot 20 minutes later, when protesters began punching and kicking Fu, shining flashlights in his eyes and pouring water on him, the court was told.
Prosecutors accused Pat and Ho of tying Fu on the cart and shining strong lights at him, respectively. The two also allegedly dragged Fu onto the ground later, enabling his attackers, including Lai, to beat him for around two minutes. Fu was escorted away at about 12.20am the next day by paramedics who came to his rescue.
Before the trial started, Lai pleaded guilty to a charge of common assault for poking Fu with an American flag and punching him as paramedics were taking him away. He also pleaded guilty to obstructing the medical officers.
Ho, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to possessing offensive weapons in a public place after police seized from his car a folding knife, a catapult, 520 metal pellets, two laser pointers and a baton following his arrest.
In Wednesday’s ruling, District Judge Clement Lee Hing-nin said Lai, Pat and Ho had respectively pulled down their masks that night, which was captured on camera. The resolution of the video evidence was also high enough to prove their presence at the scene, even though Fu failed to identify them when he testified in the witness box at an October trial.
Although Lee said Fu did not suffer “grievous injuries” as alleged by the prosecution, he found the trio guilty of a lesser count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. The judge additionally convicted Pat of false imprisonment.
“[The trio’s] common purpose was to commit a breach of the peace. With their identities hidden, they insulted and assaulted [Fu] at Hong Kong International Airport,” Lee said. “I am sure that [they] had the intention to take part in the riot and they did take part in it.”
However, the judge said he could not be sure Wong had been among those who surrounded Fu and prevented him from leaving, as no footage could capture his full appearance in the chaos. He acquitted Wong of unlawful assembly and false imprisonment.
Lee will hear lawyers’ mitigation on Friday before passing sentence.