Two men and a teenager have been jailed for up to four years for rioting in a Hong Kong shopping centre with such “savage” violence during the city’s social unrest that a police constable was left with a life-changing injury.
District Judge Amanda Woodcock said on Thursday that a deterrent sentence was needed – even for the youngest defendant, who was just 16 at the time of offence last year – to reflect the fact that rioters had lost all control in a public place and targeted police officers in a direct attack on law and order.
“A riot has an immediate and serious impact on the rule of law,” the judge said. “Courts must show that such conduct will not be tolerated in this community.”
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The District Court case centred on violent clashes between police and more than 100 extradition bill protesters in Sha Tin’s New Town Plaza on July 14 last year, during which two riots broke out, each resulting in one officer being injured while singled out on the way to help other attacked colleagues.
One of the constables had since recovered and resumed normal duties, but the second was still on sick leave as the assault left him with double vision in his left eye that stopped him from driving and carrying out frontline work.
Earlier this month, security worker Kung Chi-yuen, 51, and Leung Pak-tim, 24, who is unemployed, each pleaded guilty to two counts of rioting, while student Lee Man-him, 17, admitted to one count of the same charge.
The court heard Leung kicked and repeatedly assaulted Detective Constable Cheung Lik-hang with an umbrella, while Lee jabbed and struck the officer more than 20 times, also with an umbrella, until police reinforcements arrived a minute later.
Kung was then seen throwing an umbrella at one of the officers who rescued Cheung, but missed.
A second riot broke out two minutes later at the bottom of a nearby escalator, from which Constable Andy Kwok Siu-hang was pushed by protesters from behind onto the lower floor, where Leung then kicked him while Kung hit the officer’s back and assaulted him five times with an umbrella.
This riot also lasted for a minute, until a reporter straddled Kwok on the ground to stop further assault.
In mitigation, defence counsel argued that the offences were out of character, resulting from a momentary lapse of judgment as they were caught up with the crowd when emotions were running high.
Counsel for Lee also urged the court to consider his age and adopt recommendations for him to be placed in a training centre for rehabilitation.
But the judge observed that the court had to consider the extent of overall violence and the footage showed how “brutal and savage” the rioters were when they surrounded the officers, with Lee being the most violent of the three defendants – assaulting Cheung in a “very fast, continuous and aggressive manner”.
Woodcock also noted that Cheung had suffered “life-changing consequences” – in terms of both physical harm and his career as a police officer at the age of 31 – as a result of the vicious attack.
She said the best mitigation was the guilty plea, and jailed the youngest defendant for 40 months on his single charge, while imposing a term of four years on the other defendants, who were involved in both riots.
Their case was the second one to proceed to sentence. In the first, lifeguard Sin Ka-ho was jailed for four years after he admitted to rioting outside the Legislative Council on June 12, 2019, when the now-abandoned bill was scheduled for a second reading.
The offence is punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment but capped at seven when the case is heard in the District Court.
Chief Inspector Charles Fung Pui-kei said police welcomed the sentence, which he believed could reflect the seriousness of the case.