Two students charged in relation to a violent demonstration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) during the social upheaval two years ago have been found guilty of rioting and violating a ban on wearing masks at rallies.
Vocational school student Cheung Chun-ho and CUHK student Tang Hei-man were convicted at the District Court on Wednesday after the judge rejected their defence they went to the front line of the protest either by mistake or out of curiosity.
Two other co-defendants, CUHK student Chan Hey-hang and Polytechnic University student Lee Chun-ho, were acquitted of the charge of rioting due to a lack of evidence, but Chan was found guilty of violating the mask ban.
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The three found guilty were remanded in custody pending an array of assessments before sentencing on July 21.
The four were the first group of defendants to stand trial over the unrest at CUHK on November 12, 2019, one of the most violent episodes of the protest movement that year.
They were accused of rioting in the vicinity of the No 2 bridge at the university’s Sha Tin campus, with all except Lee facing a further charge of wearing a facial covering at an unlawful assembly.
The clashes followed a day of citywide protests which included demonstrators crippling operations along Tolo Highway and the nearby MTR East Rail Line by throwing objects from the bridge. Police dispersed protesters later that day and cordoned off the road to prevent further disruption.
But protesters returned to the bridge the next morning, shining lasers at officers and shouting abuse from behind a makeshift barricade. Some participants also cursed at officers while hiding behind a bush.
The illegal gathering escalated into a riot at around 3pm, when protesters hurled petrol bombs, bricks and miscellaneous items at officers retreating to the other side of the bridge. Police began arresting people 20 minutes later, apprehending the four defendants.
Cheung, who studied at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, testified he initially went to the area in the hopes of attending his elder sister’s graduation ceremony, not knowing the event had been called off due to the unrest.
He claimed he went to the bridge by mistake after following an unknown woman who gave him protective equipment commonly worn by radical protesters.
Tang said she was there to find inspiration for her literary works, whereas the remaining two students declined to give evidence.
In Wednesday’s verdict, Judge Clement Lee Hing-nin said the explanations offered by Cheung and Tang were excuses and stories created to evade criminal liabilities.
He accepted the prosecutors’ conclusion that Cheung had actively taken part in the violence, while Tang abetted others to breach public order with her presence.
However, he found no evidence to suggest how long Chan and Lee had remained on the scene, making it difficult to determine whether they had deliberately remained in the middle of the confrontation.
Lee held that a police officer who arrested Lee did not tell the whole truth in court when the officer insisted the accused injured himself in the head even though video footage showed him being pulled down to the ground by police.
The judge also cleared Cheung of weapons possession over a laser pointer by noting irregularities in police handling of the evidence.
Rioting is punishable by seven years in prison at the District Court. The maximum penalty for breaching the government’s mask regulation is one year imprisonment and a fine of HK$25,000 (US$3,220).
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