Two merchants have become the first to plead guilty to rioting charges over one of the most shocking outbreaks of violence during Hong Kong’s months of anti-government protests in 2019.
The District Court case centred on the July 21 mob attack at Yuen Long MTR station, in which a group of men dressed in white T-shirts and armed with wooden sticks and metal poles injured 45 civilians and protesters.
On Monday, Lam Koon-leung, 49, and Lam Kai-ming, 44, admitted a joint rioting charge, but denied a second count of wounding with intent.
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The second charge was left on court file, meaning it cannot be pursued without the permission of the District Court or the Court of Appeal.
Prosecutors said the two men were among more than 50 white-clad individuals who gathered at the station on July 21, heeding calls to “safeguard Yuen Long” and “drive out protesters” that emerged after protesters held a screening event in the district on July 16.
The court heard the group engaged in a stand-off with about 100 people at the station concourse, most dressed in black, and the verbal dispute quickly escalated into a violent confrontation just before 11pm.
The men in white were seen waving sticks, hurling objects and jumping on people at the scene, including a reporter, while some of those in black also threw objects and sprayed water and fire extinguishers.
Some of the men then rushed into the paid area, chasing their black-shirted opponents to the platform and into the train cars.
The two defendants were among those waving wooden sticks and yelling at the men in black. Lam Kai-ming also hurled objects, while Lam Koon-leung assaulted passengers inside a Tuen Mun-bound train with his stick.
They were arrested a month later, after footage of the indiscriminate attack was widely circulated.
The assaults during the time frame on which the case focused – 10.40pm to 11.14pm – left 10 people with varying degrees of injuries ranging from lacerations to a blood clot, while another reported abdominal pain from the shock of witnessing the incident.
But senior assistant director of public prosecutions Anthony Chau Tin-hang conceded these descriptions were based on the victims’ police statements rather than medical reports, and was ordered by the judge to furnish more information before the two defendants return to court on March 26.
They are remanded in custody until then.
Their six co-defendants have pleaded not guilty to a raft of rioting and wounding charges, and are expected to stand trial in the next 25 days.
They are transport worker Wong Chi-wing, 55; cable worker Wong Ying-kit, 49; merchant Tang Wai-sum, 62; driver Ng Wai-nam, 58; electrician Choi Lap-ki, 40; and Tang Ying-bun, 61.
Tang, who is unemployed, faces the bulk of the charges – two of rioting, one of wounding with intent and a conspiracy charge – over events at the station and surrounding area, including Long Wo Road and Yoho Mall.
But the long-awaited trial over the mob attack did not open smoothly, as district judge Eddie Yip Chor-man found prosecutors had submitted necessary papers “at the eleventh hour” and were not adequately prepared to present their evidence.
“I don’t like to hear apologies,” the judge said while grilling Chau. “Even though you haven’t.”
“I apologise,” Chau immediately replied.
The hearing drew a sizeable crowd that nearly filled two public galleries.
Among those seated were former opposition lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting and his Democratic Party colleague Winfield Chong Wing-fai, who had previously questioned why they were not listed as prosecution witnesses.
Lam was injured at the scene and was himself prosecuted on a rioting charge more than a year later. His case is slated to return for mention on March 23.
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