HKU council controversy

Former Hong Kong student leaders face jail over university council siege

Magistrate finds Billy Fung guilty of disorderly conduct and Colman Li of obstructing a public officer during campus chaos last year

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 July, 2017, 1:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 July, 2017, 11:32pm

Two former student leaders face imprisonment following their conviction on Thursday for their roles in a chaotic siege of a University of Hong Kong governing council meeting last year.

Former student union president Billy Fung Jing-en, 23, was convicted after trial on one count of disorderly conduct in a public place, adding to the charges of criminal damage and attempted forcible entry to which he had already pleaded guilty.

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Fung’s then vice-president Colman Li Fung-kei, 22, was found guilty of obstructing a public officer in the performance of his duty. He blocked a senior paramedic, who eventually took more than an hour to get council member Leonie Ki Man-fung to hospital after protesters kicked her.

Sentencing was adjourned to September 21, pending reports on the pair’s backgrounds and the feasibility of community service as a punishment, plus a medical report on Fung who has suffered from leukaemia and a brain tumour.

Both students were granted bail on condition that they not leave Hong Kong, except for Fung in the first week of September when he has to register for studies at National Taiwan University.

Magistrate Ko Wai-hung said he was open to all sentencing options despite calling for the reports. “This is a serious case. Imprisonment remains a highly likely option,” he told the students in the dock.

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However, defence counsel Martin Lee Chu-ming SC said the case did not merit a deterrent sentence given no one was harmed.

Fung’s mother wrote in mitigation that he was a very strong and brave man who survived leukaemia and a brain tumour and worked hard to get into university to take care of her.

Her six-page handwritten letter further revealed that Fung had always carried a piece of paper in his wallet telling others to return him to the university in case he fell ill and lost his way.

“He loves the University of Hong Kong,” Lee read from the letter. “Hope the court will give him another chance.”

Commercial Radio’s chief adviser, Stephen Chan Chi-wan, also wrote a mitigation letter saying that Fung was a sincere and responsible man full of ideals, while noting that the pressure he faced in the trial was itself punishment.

The magistrate previously heard the protest outside a university building on January 26 last year followed a three-hour council meeting, during which members reviewed the university’s management structure and agreed to set up a panel to review the laws governing the institution.

Protesters surrounded the exit, stormed the building and refused to let councillors leave.

Council chairman Arthur Li Kwok-cheung likened the student protest to a riot, while fellow councillor Ki, who needed medical help after reporting dizziness and numbness in her legs while leaving the meeting, testified that she felt like a hostage and feared she would become the victim of a stampede.

The court heard a student tried to stop paramedics carrying her away on a stretcher.

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Ko returned the verdict after finding Li an honest and reliable witness, despite the defence claiming he fabricated and exaggerated evidence to boost the prosecution case.

But the magistrate also acknowledged Li’s possible prejudice towards Fung as he had testified that he looked down on the student for having “a flawed character”.

The magistrate acquitted Fung of criminal intimidation after finding prosecutors had failed to prove he was directly addressing the professor with the intent to alarm him when he shouted: “Don’t let him go! Don’t let Arthur Li go! Kill him! Kill him!”

But he found him guilty of the alternative charge of disorderly conduct in a public place as he concluded what Fung said was likely to cause a breach of the peace and that his language went beyond the limits of freedom of speech, assembly and protest.

The magistrate further concluded the two paramedics were honest and reliable witnesses when they recalled that Colman Li had pressed down on their stretcher and told them their services were not needed.

Many showed up in support of the two students, including Hong Kong Indigenous convenor Ray Wong Toi-yeung and former lawmakers Wong Yuk-man, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching.

Fung on Wednesday expressed concern on his Facebook page that the case could mean his dream of becoming a secondary school teacher would be dashed. He also revealed that a teacher had declined to write a mitigation letter for fear of losing his job.

Disorderly conduct in a public place is punishable by a HK$5,000 fine and one year in jail, while attempted forcible entry carries the same fine but a higher maximum jail term – as for criminal damage – of two years.

Obstructing a public officer in his or her performance of public duty is punishable by a HK$1,000 fine and six months in prison.