Mong Kok riot: youngest of 10 defendants given heaviest sentence for ‘wanton use of violence that took advantage of tolerant police’
District Court had heard Mo Jia-tao hurled more than 16 bricks and other hard objects at officers
One of the youngest men to be prosecuted over the Mong Kok riot of 2016 was jailed for more than four years on Thursday – the heaviest of 10 sentences handed down in a trial that spanned a whole year.
District Court Judge Kwok Wai-kin slammed 19-year-old Mo Jia-tao’s “blatant disregard of the law … and wanton use of violence that took advantage of tolerant police” when he hurled more than 16 bricks and other hard objects in assaults against the officers.
Mo’s punishment of 51 months in jail stood in sharp contrast with that of Yep Chi-fung, also 19, who was sent to a training centre after throwing a handful of bricks at officers “out of fun” as Kwok ruled such a detention could help the young man of a clear record to rehabilitate himself.
Eight other rioters were also jailed for between 28 and 45 months. The sentencing concluded the lengthiest trial over the riot that began when a hawker control operation in the city’s popular shopping district turned ugly on February 8, 2016.
West Kowloon Court heard each of the 10 men took part in varying degrees “in furtherance of the riot”, which injured 47 officers across four major roads.
The offence carried a penalty of up to 10 years behind bars, but was capped at seven years for this case as it was transferred from the District Court.
While defence lawyers argued for alternative punishments, such as unpaid community service, Kwok concluded custodial terms were “the only suitable option”.
Ng Ting-kai, 27, received the shortest jail term at 28 months for he was the only defendant to plead guilty at the start of trial that began exactly one year ago. The early admission of guilt earned him a one-third discount on top of two months’ deduction for the time he waited for punishment.
Chief Inspector Baron Chan Shun-ching said “police respect the judgment” and that he believed the appropriate sentences sent a strong message to the public that the force “takes zero tolerance towards any illegal acts of violence”.
In sentencing, the judge explained that he considered the scale, duration and impact of the riot, as well as the extent of individual participation and the violence used when deciding punishment.
Kwok noted that courts had “an overwhelming duty” to protect the public, which would override the defendants’ personal need for rehabilitation, thus sentencing would have to emphasise punitive and deterrent elements to prevent a repeat.
The sentences at the end of a trial that lasted a year
Mo Jia-tao, 19, two counts of rioting, one of criminal damage and one of assaulting police. Four years and three months
Chung Chi-wah, 31, one count of rioting. Three years and nine months
Anthony Ho Kam-sum, 39, one count of rioting. Three years and nine months
Fok Ting-ho, 25, one count of rioting. Three years and eight months
Chan Wo-cheung, 73, one count of rioting. Three years and five months
Tang King-chung, 30, one count of rioting. Three years and six months
Li Cheuk-hin, 21, one count of rioting. Two years and nine months
Lam Wing-wong, 23, one count of rioting. Three years and eight months
Yep Chi-fung, 19, one count of rioting. Training Centre
Ng Ting-kai, 27, one count of rioting. Two years and four months
He rejected suggestions of political motivation raised during mitigation, such as the labelling of the riot as “a political demonstration” or the revelation of the defendants’ alignment with localist ideas due to their frustration following the collapse of the Occupy protests in 2014.
Mo, for instance, had explained that he wanted to support hawkers that night after he was found guilty of two counts of riot, one of criminal damage and another of assaulting police.
But the judge found such mitigation was no different from “using a back door” to invite the court to analyse hawker control policies.
“Without doubt, the court will not join this political debate,” Kwok repeatedly stressed.
The judge also rejected participation “under others’ influence” or “out of fun” as proper mitigating factors as he explained their conduct had nonetheless resulted in a breach of peace.
He further explained that participants would have to bear collective responsibility over the riot as each individual’s mere presence “provided comfort, support and encouragement” to others at the scene.
Logistics worker Tang King-chung, 30, may not have thrown a single brick, but his role in passing bricks to others – knowing how they would be used in attacking officers – landed him 42 months in prison.
Cleaner Chung Chi-wah, 31, who continued to deny the offence in his mitigation letter to the court, was jailed for 45 months.
An 11th defendant, student Lee Sin-yi, remained at large. A warrant was issued for her arrest.
The case was closely linked with that of waiter Tang Ho-yin, 26, who was jailed for 34 months in April after he admitted to throwing a single brick at police “for fun” at the same time and location where the others had rioted.
In other cases, five men and a woman were jailed for 36 to 57 months for rioting, following their conviction after trial.
Three others – Edward Leung Tin-kei, 26, Ken Lo Kin-man, 31, and Wong Ka-Kui, 27 – will be sentenced in the High Court on June 11.