Two students in Hong Kong accused of blocking roads during a protest against the government’s mask ban last year have been acquitted after a magistrate found inconsistencies in police officers’ accounts of the incident.
Chung Man-sze and Wu Man-chun, aged 16 and 18, respectively, were each cleared of one count of obstruction in a public place at Kowloon City Court on Monday over a demonstration on October 13 last year, eight days after the government issued a controversial ban on the wearing of masks during demonstrations amid last year’s social unrest.
The pair were accused of setting up barricades of cardboard and iron fencing at the junction of Cheung Sha Wan Road and Yen Chow Street in Sham Shui Po, but no officers actually witnessed the two placing obstacles at the scene.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
The prosecution said Chung had admitted the offence following her arrest and asked police for leniency. That confession, however, was rejected by Magistrate June Cheung Tin-ngan, who found the two arresting officers unreliable, and pointed to discrepancies in their testimonies.
One such difference, Cheung said, was the number of protesters at the scene. Inspector Wong Yiu-bun, who arrested Wu, said he saw about 60 protesters when he arrived at the junction. However, Constable Lai Kam-yiu, who arrested Chung, said there were only 30 protesters in the area.
Lai, meanwhile, testified that traffic at the scene was running smoothly and without obstruction when police made arrests, but Wong said the junction was already paralysed by then.
Lai had also given contrasting evidence on the number of protesters who had accompanied Chung at the scene, Cheung said, adding he was also unable to ascertain whether the student had worn a mask before arrest.
The magistrate further observed the two officers had failed to detail the course of action taken by the two defendants in the lead-up to their apprehension.
“In all, the court feels uncomfortable in relying on the witness statements of the two officers,” Cheung said. “The prosecution has failed to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt.”