Three Hong Kong protesters become first to be convicted of rioting during Mong Kok clashes
Judge stresses ‘violence is violence’ as he finds trio threw glass bottles and a bamboo stick at police
Two students and a cook on Thursday became the first to be convicted of rioting in the violent clashes in Mong Kok in February last year, after a court found they hurled glass bottles and a bamboo stick at police officers.
The District Court will sentence the trio on Friday on one joint count of rioting, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors are seeking a deterrent sentence to “address public interest” in light of the disruption to public order that saw a hawker control operation turn ugly, with a police officer firing warning shots as protesters launched bricks and started fires that Lunar New Year.
The defence called for shorter jail terms – if not a suspended sentence or an order to attend a training centre for the youngest, 20-year-old defendant – as they countered that the event was an isolated, spontaneous incident and did not happen again.
But judge Sham Siu-man questioned why sentencing should not follow the case of Vietnamese refugees rioting in Whitehead camp in 1989, in which the Court of Appeal ruled that five years was a suitable term for conviction after trial. “I can’t see any major difference,” he said.
Students Hui Ka-ki, 23, and Mak Tsz-hei, 20, and cook Sit Tat-wing, 33, denied rioting, arguing instead that they were observers on the sidelines of the incident.
Another point of contention was whether events at the northbound lane of Nathan Road on February 9 amounted to a riot as the defence argued there was no breach of the peace, as no property was damaged and no one was injured.
Yesterday, judge Sham Siu-man classified the scene as one of a riot as he explained that prosecutors need only to prove there was violent behaviour to show there was a breach of the peace.
He further concluded that the three defendants were all part of the riot in which they engaged in further illegal activities by throwing glass bottles and a two metres’ long bamboo stick.
“The evidence also showed there were at least 20 to 30 people taking part in the riot,” he said. “Their assembly was, without question, unlawful.”
All three defendants had no prior criminal record before the present case.
But assistant director of public prosecutions Ned Lai Ka-yee said being a first-time offender would not be a strong mitigating factor when the court’s primary concern is public interest, which can only be addressed by a deterrent sentence.
Defence argued in mitigation that the trio did not act for personal gain, but only to express dissatisfaction towards the government and in support of the hawkers.
But the judge stressed that “violence is violence”. “Glass bottles can kill people,” he said.