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HKU council controversy

Victim among hundreds to support former student leaders Billy Fung and Colman Li

Leonie Ki Man-fung, who had been attacked during the siege by students, says she forgives Li for his role in blocking her from medical care

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 5:44pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 September, 2017, 11:21am

Hundreds of mitigation letters were presented to a court on Thursday in support of two former University of Hong Kong student leaders who avoided jail for their roles in a chaotic siege of a council meeting last year, including one from a woman hurt in the fracas.

The letters, from council members, staff, alumni and current students, were a rare show of unity after years of division that plagued the school’s governing council.

They urged West Kowloon Court magistrate Ko Wai-hung, who is also an HKU alumnus, to show leniency in sentencing former student union president Billy Fung Jing-en, 23, and his then vice-president Colman Li Fung-kei, 22, for their roles in the siege.

Ko sentenced the men to community service. Fung received 240 hours while Li was ordered to complete 200 hours.

The outpouring of support came after the Court of Appeal last month jailed 16 young protesters, including the three student leaders involved in the 2014 Occupy protests.

The higher court sided with the government and overturned lighter sentences deemed too lenient in favour of prison.

The letter writers included council member Leonie Ki Man-fung, who had felt unwell after being kicked in the legs and pushed during the siege by students demanding a meeting with council chairman. Li was charged with obstruction for blocking paramedics as they tried to remove Ki.

Ki said in her letter to the court that she had forgiven Li after meeting him. She said Li reflected on what he did and showed genuine remorse.

She accepted his apology, and said the past year of psychological pressure was punishment enough.

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Other university officials who wrote letters included vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson, council member Abraham Razack, as well as prominent professors.

Some 111 alumni also wrote in mitigation, adding to letters by 105 former student union executive committee members, plus other staff and janitors.

The university council came under the spotlight in 2015 when members debated whether Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun, a supporter of pro-democracy causes, should be appointed pro-vice-chancellor.

His candidacy failed, leading to criticism that pro-establishment forces had opposed him on political grounds.

Tensions flared again when months later Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, a close ally of then chief executive Leung Chun-ying, was named chairman of the council.

Razack, who is also a city lawmaker, appealed to the court to “show mercy”.

He said in his letter that he had political differences with Fung – who was found guilty 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 – when they both served the council.

But that did not affect his perception of Fung as an enthusiastic, steadfast and reasonable person to work with even on contentious issues. So he was confounded by the “complete out of character” conduct Fung displayed during the siege.

Razack said Hong Kong’s political polarisation had turned campuses into the new battlegrounds for disputes, adding that he sympathised with Fung who experienced a difficult childhood and paid a high price for his wrongs.

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Fung wrote that he had learned his lesson, admitting one should win support with reason and solve differences through dialogue. He said students should live up to society’s expectations and respect the rights of others.

The current student president, Wong Ching-tak, said that Fung has taught students to show restraint even in the face of unfairness because there was a cost to being emotional.

Defence counsel Martin Lee Chu-ming SC said this showed that the court could worry less about student unions using similar, inappropriate and aggressive conduct.

“Billy can bring about a new phenomenon,” the HKU alumnus said.