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Hong Kong courts

Mong Kok riot prosecutors invoke tougher sentencing guidelines brought in after Hong Kong’s Occupy movement to secure bigger punishments

Defence lawyers call for community service and training centre terms, as judge hears mitigation in case of 10 defendants involved in unrest of 2016

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 May, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 May, 2018, 7:00am

Prosecutors in the Mong Kok riot trial called the court’s attention to new, tougher sentencing guidelines for unlawful assembly involving violence brought in after the Occupy protests, after a judge on Wednesday heard mitigation for 10 defendants involved in the unrest of 2016.

District Judge Kwok Wai-kin said all sentencing options “would be carefully considered” in punishing the rioters, who injured dozens of police officers with bricks, stones and bottles.

Rioting is punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment, but defence lawyers pleaded for a variety of sentencing options ranging from unpaid community service to detention at a training centre and jail terms starting at three years.

Prosecutions chief David Leung Cheuk-yin SC, on the other hand, drew attention to the recent Court of Final Appeal judgment on Joshua Wong Chi-fung, which endorsed new sentencing guidelines to impose bigger punishments in cases of unlawful assembly involving violence following the pro-democracy Occupy protests of 2014.

Kwok will hand down the punishments on May 31.

All but one of the 10 men were convicted after a marathon trial that began in June last year and concluded earlier this month with a 382-page judgment. One defendant, Ng Ting-kai, 27, pleaded guilty at the start of the trial. 

Among them were teenage first-time offenders who hurled up to 20 bricks at officers in two minutes, “casual participants” who joined in the mayhem “out of fun”, and a 73-year-old retiree who moved at “turtle speed” while trying to flee from an isolated lapse of judgment at the scene on February 9, 2016.

Defence counsel Lawrence Lau said his client Mo Jia-tao, 19, started paying attention to current affairs through liberal studies, and began taking part in social movements during Occupy.

In his 10 days of occupation back then, Mo claimed to have witnessed police violence that made him see officers as “villainous” representatives of the government. Two years later, he hurled more than a dozen bricks and other objects at police, and damaged a police car – with officers in it – that has since been put out of service.

“On that night in Mong Kok, he expressed his suppressed anger in the worst possible way,” Lau said as he asked for his client to be sentenced to detention centre or training centre.

Confidence in Hong Kong police restored after Occupy low, force says

“But after two years and four months of cooling down and reflection, he understood that he had attacked ordinary citizens who were lawfully exercising their duties in uniform.”

Defence counsel Anita Ma argued for her 19-year-old client Yep Chi-fung: “Training centre is not a soft option – the defendant would be on remand for at least two years and after that he would be subject to one year of supervision.”

Another counsel, Linda Wong, said punishment for rioting had to reflect the event’s circumstances, causes and impact on society. She asked the court to consider the present case a “political demonstration” that stemmed from the community’s dissatisfaction towards the police’s handling of Occupy, Hong Kong-mainland China relations, income disparity and the lack of universal suffrage.

But the judge questioned whether that meant more lenient punishments for politically motivated rioters and heavier punishments for those who joined out of fun.

Five of the defendants had previously claimed they took part out of fun but were convicted after Kwok concluded that was not a defence.

Among them was Fok Ting-ho, 25, who apologised to the public for his breach of the peace and pledged to stay within the boundaries of the law as he deeply regretted his actions.

Meanwhile, defence counsel Bernard Chung called for community service for Ng as he said his client’s autism “certainly played a part in his offence” which he admitted before the start of the trial but was made to wait 11 months for sentencing over. “He is not a bad young man,” Chung argued.

But the judge replied: “I cannot ignore the seriousness of the case.”