Nine Hong Kong defendants deny rioting charges in one of biggest trials relating to Mong Kok clashes
Case expected to last 30 days and involve more than 200 prosecution witnesses
One of the biggest trials over last year’s clashes in Mong Kok opened on Thursday, with nine defendants denying all rioting charges while one of them admitted hurling a bottle-like object at police.
A 10th defendant will make a plea on charges of rioting and assault occasioning actual bodily harm on Friday.
The men, aged between 17 and 70, face a total of 13 charges relating to their actions along four major roads in the popular shopping district.
Prosecutors have lined up more than 200 possible witnesses for the trial, which is expected to last 30 days before District Court judge Kwok Wai-kin.
The trial was moved from the District Court to the newer West Kowloon Court, which is bigger and has more technologically advanced equipment.
The unrest on the first day of the Lunar New Year came after government control officers tried to halt the activities of hawkers in the area. During the unrest that followed, a police officer fired warning shots while protesters hurled various objects.
On Thursday, defence counsel Matthew Chong complained about the refusal of prosecutors to summon the officer who fired the shots as he revealed plans to contest the cases on the basis of self-defence.
“The police used excessive force,” he said. “If my client did throw bricks as prosecutors allege, their use of force was relatively less serious than an officer opening fire.”
But deputy director of public prosecutions David Leung Cheuk-yin SC noted there was no connection between the shots at 2.05am and the alleged offences between 3am and 5am on February 9, especially when they took place at different locations.
The judge asked how the officer could prove the warning shots were “excessive and inappropriate” and asked Chong to consider whether his testimony would still be needed as the case developed.
Facing the bulk of charges is waiter Mo Jia-tao, 18, who pleaded not guilty to three counts of rioting and one of criminal damage relating to a police car.
But he admitted throwing a bottle-like object at police constable Wong Wing-ho at the junction of Soy Street and Nathan Road. The object hit the metal barricades behind Wong with a bang. Mok will be sentenced after the trial.
Cleaner Chung Chi-wah, 30, actor Anthony Ho Kam-sum, 37, waiter Fok Ting-ho, 23, logistics worker Tang King-chung, 27, electrician Lam Wing-wong, 21, renovation worker Yep Chi-fung, 17, and Chan Wo-cheung, 70, and Li Cheuk-hin, 19, who are both unemployed, all pleaded not guilty to one count of rioting.
Chan further denied assaulting police constable Pang Tak-ching.
Ng Ting-kai, 24, will enter a plea on Friday.
The court heard that at least six of the defendants were planning to reject statements they gave to police during questioning, arguing they were threatened or forced to say they took part and threw bricks.
One defendant claimed he was punched in the stomach and kicked in the thigh after being stripped naked during interrogation.
Two others are planning to challenge the admissibility of videos downloaded from news outlets and the internet.
A bigger 80-day jury trial involving the alleged riot instigators will open in the High Court in January next year.