A Hong Kong court has remanded a 15-year-old boy in custody ahead of sentencing after he was convicted of vandalising a snacks store that came under attack by hardcore demonstrators during the months of anti-government protests in 2019.
Tuen Mun Court on Monday found the student guilty of trashing the Best Mart 360 branch at a Tin Shui Wai shopping centre on February 24 last year, dismissing the teen’s claim that he had been out playing basketball with his friends that afternoon.
The retailer had become a major target of demonstrators’ ire since the protests began in June of 2019, with 75 of its 102 branches vandalised on 180 separate occasions as of mid-November 2019.
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The chain’s chairman, Lin Tsz-fung, was accused of having ties to gangs from the Chinese province of Fujian, who had been blamed by protesters for instigating violent street clashes. The allegation was never substantiated, and the company has denied it.
Prosecutors alleged the boy, wearing a mask and a black outfit, stormed into the shop at Tin Yiu Plaza with another teenager at 2pm that day, defacing cash registers and knocking goods onto the ground.
The pair were arrested at a public housing estate 3km away from the scene some 45 minutes later, with the boy acknowledging to police that he went on a rampage inside the shop out of contempt for the business.
The boy later denied one count of criminal damage, testifying in court that he had planned to meet his friends that afternoon to play basketball, but was arrested when he was about to have meal with them.
His lawyer asked the court to disregard the earlier confession on the grounds that it was entered in the absence of his parents, in breach of police protocol on the questioning of underage suspects.
In Monday’s ruling, Magistrate Kelly Shui found that while the arresting officer had improperly induced the boy to assume liability for earlier attacks on the chain, the boy admitted wrongdoing in the present case on his own accord.
Shui further supported her guilty verdict by referring to the shoes and black jacket found in the boy’s possession at the time of his arrest, which matched the appearance of one of the perpetrators on CCTV footage.
The magistrate also found the boy’s account of events unreliable, as he changed his story several times under cross-examination as to how he suddenly decided to call off the basketball game and eat with his friends.
The defence counsel said in mitigation the boy had been battling autism and depression since a young age, but his condition had improved thanks to regular medication and follow-ups by social workers.
The student agreed on Monday to pay the shop HK$527.70 (US$68) in damages.
In her remarks, Shui told the teen to “learn a lesson” and “reflect on his behaviour” while being held in custody pending assessment of various sentencing options.
“[What you did was] target individual shops over completely trumped-up allegations,” the magistrate told the boy. The court will pass sentence on February 5.
A 15-year-old co-defendant, meanwhile, has been sentenced to up to six months’ detention at the Sha Tsui Correctional Institution after pleading guilty to vandalising the snacks chain three times in February last year.
In a separate case, a 22-year-old student was jailed for 5½ months on Monday for an incident outside an HSBC branch during a protest on New Year’s Day last year.
Lai Pak-kei was convicted of criminal damage and resisting a police officer after he was caught spray painting graffiti on wooden boards installed over the windows of the bank on Hennessy Road in Wan Chai, one of many HSBC branches in the city that came under attack after the closure of an account belonging to a protest fundraiser.
Passing sentence at Eastern Court, Magistrate David Cheung Chi-wai called the young man’s actions “selfish”, saying they had the potential to further divide an already polarised society. Rather than undermining freedom of expression, he added, a jail sentence in the case served to reflect the seriousness of damaging public property.
This article Hong Kong teen found guilty of vandalising shop that had drawn protesters’ ire first appeared on South China Morning Post