Two men have pleaded guilty to rioting during a protest at the Hong Kong airport in 2019, while four others admitted taking part in an unlawful assembly during a demonstration at a shopping centre that took place not long after.
The six defendants pleaded guilty to a total of eight charges in two separate cases at the District Court on Monday. A judge presiding over one of the cases took the unprecedented step of banning anyone from wearing yellow masks – the colour of the anti-government movement – inside the courtroom, a decision questioned by the city’s new chief justice.
The two cases centred on violent clashes between protesters and police at the airport on August 13, and a protest inside Amoy Plaza in Kowloon Bay on September 14, both in 2019.
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The two men pleading guilty to rioting during the airport clashes were community officer Yau Man-king and technician Yip Man-leong, aged 30 and 23, respectively, at the time of the offence.
What started as a peaceful sit-in inside the facility’s concourses on August 9 descended into brawls and vandalism four days later, as protesters paralysed the air hub in a bid to compel the government to withdraw a now-shelved extradition bill. Nearly a thousand flights were cancelled during the period.
The prosecution said Yau and Yip were among 10 protesters who attacked Constable Wong Yiu-wa when he was called to restore order at Terminal 1 at 11.10pm on August 13, 2019. The protesters had earlier vandalised a number of police vehicles outside the building.
Video footage circulating online showed Yau tugging at Wong’s shield and trying to hit him with a baggage cart, while Yip was seen whacking the officer in the back with a flashlight and pushing him. Wong later raised his handgun but did not fire.
The pair were remanded in custody and their lawyers arranged for mitigation on January 26.
Two co-defendants – cook Ko Wing-hong and janitor Mak Hang-hung, aged 24 and 23, respectively, at the time of the incident – stood trial on Monday after confirming they pleaded not guilty to taking part in an unlawful assembly on the night in question. The trial before Judge Anthony Kwok Kai-on is expected to last 10 days.
In another courtroom, four men – Shek Lang-tin, Lau Yiu-chung, Chan Kai-yin, and Chan Shui-chuen, aged between 29 and 36 – pleaded guilty to taking part in an unlawful assembly inside Amoy Plaza on the afternoon of September 14, 2019, when three shoppers were attacked by protesters.
Shek further pleaded guilty to a count of wounding over pulling the hair of one of the female victims during the incident.
Reviewing the prosecution’s video footage of the incident, Judge Ernest Lin Kam-hung alleged people wearing yellow vests – whom he believed were the press – had “constituted a part of the riot” by “standing there” and “preventing the victims from leaving”.
Meanwhile, Lin instructed his clerk to direct a junior defence lawyer and two residents to replace their yellow masks with ones of a different colour. Only the lawyer followed suit, while the two members of the public, who claimed to be relatives of some of the defendants, left the court in protest.
Asked about the move during the ceremonial opening of the 2021 legal year, new Chief Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung said that while judges had full discretion on the administration of judicial proceedings, he personally believed choice of masks was up to the individual and did not constitute a problem.
“Be it a transparent [mask] or one with floral patterns, Hong Kong is a free society and I think there is absolutely no problem in it,” Cheung said.
A judiciary spokesman declined to comment, but said officers were entitled to issue instructions on matters that might “affect the execution of judicial duties”, adding: “Those who enter the court’s public areas should dress appropriately to avoid affecting the court’s operation and order.”
On the other hand, the Hong Kong Journalists Association expressed disappointment and concern over Lin’s allegation against the press, stressing in a statement that journalists were at the protests to do reporting rather than engage in illegal activities.
“On this occasion where a judge made inaccurate remarks without understanding the working environment of the press, the Association worries such statements would be used to attack members in the news industry,” the statement read. “The Association urges every [social] sector to respect news freedom, and stop making completely baseless allegations and injuring journalists.”