57-month jail term for Hong Kong protester who set taxi on fire in Mong Kok riot
Judge says deterrent sentence is necessary as this is no ordinary crime and the court must consider its social consequences
The rioter who set fire to a taxi and became the first to be convicted of arson over the violent clashes between protesters and police in Mong Kok last year was jailed on Monday for four years and nine months.
Last week, Yeung Ka-lun, 32, a computer technician from the Open University of Hong Kong, was found guilty of one count of rioting and another of arson – both of which he denied.
Judge Anthony Kwok Kai-on said he hoped the sentence – the toughest so far over the riot – would deter young radicals from violence, and warned that those who defied the law would pay a heavy price.
“Law breaking is a road of no return,” he told a full house in the District Court. “One has to be brave in facing the legal consequences after demonstrating the same courage in challenging authority and the law.”
The case marked the first punishment for arson meted out by the Hong Kong courts over the Lunar New Year riot, when a hawker control operation escalated into running battles between protesters and police on the streets of the popular shopping district.
Last month three protesters were each jailed for three years for their part in the violence, which the court categorised as a riot.
Yeung did not react to his sentence, but some in the public gallery were heard commenting throughout the hearing and stomping their feet in protest against the sentence at the end as the judge was leaving the room.
Kwok said he was saddened at having to punish a man with a previously good record, but that he had to impose a deterrent sentence as his was not an ordinary crime and the court had to consider its social consequences.
“Hong Kong is a populated place and fires can easily inflict large-scale damage,” the judge said. “While the defendant did not explain why he participated in the riot or committed the arson ... he targeted the property of an innocent citizen.”
Kwok described the act of arson as extremely unwise and irresponsible behaviour. “Had the fire escalated, the petroleum could have exploded and that would have affected innocent citizens,” he said.
“Regardless of whether he was trying to prevent police advancing or to vent his frustrations, it was extremely reckless behaviour.”
The judge adopted a starting point of sentencing at five years, and eventually decided to jail Yeung for four years and nine months on the rioting charge, to be served concurrently with the four years and three months for arson.
Rioting is punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment while those convicted of arson may face life in jail, but the District Court can only hand down a maximum sentence of seven years.
Speaking for the police force, acting superintendent Baron Chan Shun-ching said the sentence sufficiently reflected the gravity of the offences.
The court previously heard Yeung took part in the riot in Soy Street at about 5.15am on February 9, when he joined at least 50 others in an illegal assembly – vandalising public property and assaulting police officers.
Video footage and photographs taken on-site further showed that he placed burning objects near a taxi and damaged the vehicle. Subsequent towing and repair costs for the taxi amounted to HK$6,400.
Defence counsel Paul Wu had called for a concurrent sentence on the two charges, also arguing that the fire was not serious since the vehicle was quickly repaired.