Two men who paralysed a major thoroughfare near Hong Kong Polytechnic University as police laid siege to anti-government protesters occupying the campus two years ago have pleaded guilty to rioting.
Construction worker Sze Ying-ho and clerk Man Tsz-keung were the first defendants to admit riot-related charges in relation to the violent episodes in and around the university in Hung Hom at the height of 2019’s social unrest.
The District Court heard on Tuesday that the two accused were among 50 protesters who assembled beneath a section of the Gascoigne Flyover near the Diocesan Girls’ School in Jordan at 11.30am on November 18.
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That day, protesters clashed with police near PolyU in an attempt to give their comrades – who had been trapped inside the red-brick campus for seven days – a window to escape.
Police had cordoned off the Gascoigne Flyover, which forms part of the West Kowloon Corridor, and fired tear gas to disperse the crowd, but to no avail.
Sze, who was carrying two knives and a hammer at the time, was spotted placing a plastic barrier in front of a police cordon on the road before being subdued at around 11.48am.
Man, the other suspect, was intercepted by police under the flyover one minute later. An officer subsequently found raw materials for making petrol bombs in Man’s possession.
Both defendants were captured in news footage of the demonstration.
In mitigation, Sze’s lawyer, Jasper Kwan Hang-fun, urged the court to disregard his client’s possession of the knives and hammer at the scene when determining sentencing, saying he needed the items for work.
Thomas Iu Poon-shing, representing Man, suggested the starting point for sentencing for both defendants should not exceed 4½ years in prison, given the lack of evidence that the pair played a leading role in the disturbance.
“[My client] only took part in the riot. Unlucky or not, he was caught because he was late coming down from the bridge,” Iu said.
Judge Edmond Lee Chun-man remanded the two accused in custody ahead of sentencing on June 17.
Rioting is punishable by 10 years in prison, but the sentence is capped at seven years when the case is heard at the District Court.
The pair’s guilty plea on Tuesday brings to 30 the number of defendants who have pleaded guilty to rioting offences stemming from the 2019 unrest. Eleven more defendants charged with rioting have been convicted at trial, while another 25 have been acquitted.