A construction worker who assaulted a constable during a siege of Hong Kong police headquarters last year has become the first person to be found guilty after trial of rioting during the anti-government unrest.
The District Court on Thursday ruled that an unlawful assembly outside the Wan Chai building on June 26, 2019, escalated into a riot when public peace was breached by protesters attacking officer Cheung Kam-fuk, who was on his way to work in plain clothes, without any identification.
Among them was Shum Hiu-lun, 26, who admitted punching the man twice and kicking him once, calling them defensive moves in response to Cheung pushing a female protester to the ground and to prevent him from launching further attacks, not knowing the man was an officer.
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But District Judge Anthony Kwok Kai-on found Shum to be an untrustworthy witness who used the woman’s fall to his own advantage to try and beat the charges, concluding that he had shared a common purpose with the other protesters on site and inflicted unlawful and unreasonable force that exceeded the need for self-defence.
“The law will never allow protesters to act with no regard to law and order, regardless of whether they think they are only acting for the purpose of standing up for justice or condemning ‘police brutality’,” Kwok said.
The judge, however, sided with the defence in rejecting the officer’s claim that Shum broke his canker sore during those punches, leaving him in pain for a week, which was not recorded in the six-page account of the incident on his notebook or supported by medical proof since he did not consult doctors afterwards.
Kwok also observed that canker sore injuries were not common before courts, possibly because they were so trifling they were not worth mentioning, and questioned the need for prosecutors to press such a serious charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, which is punishable by three years in prison.
Instead, the court found Shum guilty of the lesser, alternative charge of common assault – which carries a maximum prison sentence of one year – on top of rioting, plus a separate count of failing to surrender to custody without reasonable cause, which he had earlier admitted for not attending court as scheduled last November.
Shum had earlier pleaded guilty to taking part in unlawful assembly, admitting that he had helped move barricades to block the headquarters’ vehicular entrance and used plastic bags and umbrellas to cover security cameras. But that plea was not accepted by prosecutors.
Rioting is punishable by 10 years in prison, but that term is capped at seven years when the case is heard at the District Court.
Mitigation letters from Shum’s parents, relatives, friends, schoolmates and teachers depicted him as a just and helpful man who loved Hong Kong.
Shum also wrote to the court, saying he had reflected on his behaviour during the past nine months in detention and was willing to bear responsibility for his wrongdoing, before turning a new leaf and giving back to society upon discharge from prison.
Defence counsel Anthony Lai added that his client’s offence was out of character, under the influence of the social unrest. Shum will be sentenced on September 25.
His case marked the first riot conviction after trial since anti-government protests broke out over the now-withdrawn extradition bill and snowballed into a movement covering broader issues such as police use of force and universal suffrage.
Four other men have also been convicted of the same charge after pleading guilty.
The first, lifeguard Sin Ka-ho, was jailed for four years for rioting outside the Legislative Council on June 12, 2019, when the bill was scheduled for a second reading.
The three others will be sentenced on September 24 over the violence at Sha Tin’s New Town Plaza on July 14, 2019.
Latest police figures showed some 680 defendants were still undergoing proceedings on rioting charges.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong pair accused of assaulting police acquitted after magistrate rules officers used ‘unnecessary’ force
- Hong Kong protests: trio admits rioting inside shopping centre during last year’s unrest
This article Hong Kong protests: construction worker found guilty of rioting during siege of police headquarters first appeared on South China Morning Post