Two Hong Kong hawkers walk free after magistrate dismisses unlawful assembly charges over wet market brawl

Men in black claiming to be property management officers tried to force street vendors to leave area in Tuen Mun estate; hawkers told court they were trying to flee

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 December, 2016, 7:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 December, 2016, 7:52am

Two street vendors found to be involved in a violent clash with a group of self-proclaimed property management officers clad in black outside a wet market walked free from Tuen Mun Court on Friday after a judge dismissed their unlawful assembly charges.

Chan Man-fai and Tse Wai-kan pleaded not guilty to taking part in an unlawful assembly at Leung King Estate in Tuen Mun on February 2.

‘I will be here until they kill us’ – hawker at Hong Kong estate defiant after simmering unrest turns violent

Magistrate Kelly Shui accepted that Chan and Tse were defending themselves when the group in black, with the aid of dozens of “plainclothes” workmates, closed in on them with metal fencing.

“The men in black were violent ... They were like hooligans,” the magistrate said.

“They were directly responsible for the escalation of the conflict,” she ruled.

Witnesses earlier told the court that about 10 people wearing black windbreakers clashed with hawkers at the housing estate on February 2.

The men in black claimed they were hired to fence off the street vendors, the court heard.

A man was injured during the fracas. Police arrested Chan and Tse. One of the men in black was also taken away by officers as a result of the brawl.­­­­

Chan testified in court that he had tried to escape with his cart from the men in black.

His cart did not hit anyone, Chan said.

The hawker, who had been selling noodles in the estate at night for more than two years, said the people in black began to pick on the hawkers in the area around early January.

“They came more than five times before February 2. On each occasion, every hawker‘s cart would be surrounded by fencing,” he previously told the court.

The hawker said the people in black sometimes just stayed there and watched for two or three hours, but might also hang about until 3am when the street vendors left.

“They would use abusive language to tell us to leave ... They would stop residents from patronising our stalls.”

“Police were there before two or three times but they claimed they could do nothing as the open space was said to be privately owned,” Chan said.

Take your food elsewhere: Hong Kong court bans illegal hawkers from open spaces near local mall

Tse, the other hawker, claimed she also wanted to leave and that her cart did not crash into anyone.

More than five hawkers and as many as 50 residents from the neighbourhood were also at the scene, the court heard.

On Friday, the magistrate found that the area where the street vendors usually did their business was supposed to be managed by corporate owners – people who bought flats at the estate under a tenants’ purchase scheme.

“The men in black did not have any right to stop hawkers from doing business there,” Shui ruled.

Both groups had acted in an intimidating manner, she concluded.

But the magistrate accepted that Chan and Tse had only wanted to leave the area when the pair crashed their carts hard into the blockades.

Shui found that the conduct of the duo did not amount to an unlawful assembly and therefore dismissed the charges.