Jury selection for the trial of four people accused of taking part in the Mong Kok riot took place in near secrecy at Hong Kong’s High Court on Wednesday.
A pool of more than 100 potential jurors was whittled down to just nine – five women and four men – but the process unfolded under almost unheard-of levels of security.
Television footage of the events in court No 7 were broadcast outside the courtroom, but cameras avoided showing the jurors, while journalists were barred from entering the courtroom until after the nine selected jurors had left.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Hong Kong Judiciary said the intention was to ensure the jurors could exercise their duties without interference, in a case Mr Justice Albert Wong Sung-hau said was sprinkled with “political colours”.
Among those on trial is pro-independence activist Edward Leung Tin-kei. He and the other defendants face a string of riot and unlawful assembly charges over the events that took place in Mong Kok on February 8 and 9, 2016.
In Hong Kong courts, a live stream would normally be provided in high-profile trials if a judge had to make space for an unusually large pool of potential jurors.
The stream, available outside the courtroom, normally shows the interaction between jurors, lawyers and the judge, and how the jurors proceed to their seats after being selected – but not on Wednesday.
Journalists are normally given access as soon as jury selection is finished, and certainly before jurors leave the room.
It was not clear who had made the decision regarding jury selection, as lawyers at the trial said it was not something the court had previously discussed.
Leung faces one joint count of rioting with his three co-defendants, Lee Nok-man, Lam Ngo-hin and Yung Wai-yip.
Flashback: Edward Leung recounts his life story in 2016
Yung faces a separate count of inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly, one of taking part in an unlawful assembly himself, one of assaulting a police officer, and three further counts of rioting.
The charges are related to events that took place in some of Mong Kok’s best-known areas, including Portland Street, Argyle Street, Shantung Street and Fa Yuen Street.
Before selecting the nine jurors from more than 100 candidates on Wednesday, Mr Justice Wong told them to set aside their personal views.
“This may have touches of political colours and background,” he said. “You may have certain political views or impressions [of the incident].”
But he told them to ignore any preconceived notions and only rule according to the evidence in court.
“Otherwise it will not be a fair trial,” he said.
Among the pool of candidates were a secondary school classmate of Leung, and a friend of the defendants’ lawyers. Both were excused from jury duty.
The trial continues on Thursday.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Guilty plea from Hong Kong designer who burned cardboard, hurled bottles in Mong Kok riot
- Hong Kong Bar Association, Law Society condemn online trolls targeting judge who sentenced Edward Leung for Mong Kok riot
- Hong Kong independence activist Edward Leung files appeal against Mong Kok riot conviction and jail sentence
- Hong Kong activist Edward Leung, the face of city’s independence movement, jailed for six years over Mong Kok riot
- No British-style probe into causes of Mong Kok riot, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says