The two men who assaulted a South China Morning Post photographer when she took pictures of parallel-goods traders in Sheung Shui were yesterday given community service sentences for their "barbarous and violent" acts.
In sentencing Cheng Shing-wing and Li Hak, who pleaded guilty to one count of common assault each, Fanling Magistrate Wong Sze-lai said their offences were "inglorious".
"The court shall deliver its clear message, that is, violence is never tolerated - such a tendency must be disparaged," Wong said.
"The use of violence must be subject to punishment."
Cheng, 52, a caterer, was sentenced to 100 hours while Li, 51, a construction worker, got 60. Wong ruled that the HK$1,000 bail money of each would be given to the photographer, May Tse, as compensation.
But internet users said the sentence was lenient, likening it to the HK$1,500 fine imposed in January on a pro-government marcher who assaulted a Now TV journalist. "Why not jail [Cheng and Li]? It's about attacking a journalist," said Facebook user Louis La Ba.
Tse was taking pictures from a footbridge outside Sheung Shui MTR station in February when the two approached her, the court heard earlier.
Cheng slapped Tse and shoved her left shoulder while Li shouted foul language at her, the court was told. She suffered injuries to her head, left knee, nose and right eye in the incident.
"For a man to rush at a woman and injure her is highly unreasonable, barbarous and humiliating," Wong said of Cheng's acts. To Li, the magistrate said: "You swore at the victim, kept on abusing her verbally, and even jabbed her."
Steven Liu, for the defendants, showed Wong immigration records and said the pair were not crossing the border "in a manner similar to that of the so-called parallel-goods traders".
The court heard earlier that the pair had been helping a friend to carry boxes bought as gifts.
Tse was in the border town to cover parallel-goods traders' activities shortly before the government introduced the two-tin limit on travellers carrying baby milk powder out of the city.
"We condemn the perpetrators of this incident and anyone who commits violence towards journalists," said Post editor-in-chief Wang Xiangwei.
"We hope that, in future, May and her colleagues can carry out the important work of the media free from harassment and intimidation."