The scale of violence seen at the Mong Kok riot last year was as severe as the attack on a small hut by Vietnamese boatpeople in Whitehead detention centre in 1989, a judge found. The case was cited at length by judge Sham Siu-man as he jailed three protesters for three years for taking part in the Lunar New Year riot , in which they joined 20 others in hurling glass bottles and bamboo sticks. The District Court heard that some 20 Vietnamese boatpeople attacked the occupants of a small hut at Whitehead in the small hours of September 27, 1989. Three Hong Kong protesters become first to be convicted of rioting during Mong Kok clashes They attempted to force their way in while armed with iron pipes and wooden poles, hurling objects at the hut as they advanced, while their intended victims were forced to barricade themselves inside. The cause of conflict was rivalry between people from two areas in Vietnam. No one was severely injured due to the timely arrival of the police, but the Court of Appeal found five years was a suitable term for conviction after trial. Sham noted that the two cases were different in that there was no direct evidence to show there was planning ahead of the violent clashes in Mong Kok. But he added: “The violence involved and number of people was certainly no less than the [boatpeople] case.” While the defence argued that their clients did not act for personal gain but only to support hawkers and express their discontent over government policy, the judge stressed that “violence is violence”. “The harm violence inflicts on people and society would not change because the perpetrators carry a different purpose,” he said. Another case he cited was an incident at the Hei Ling Chau drug rehabilitation centre on June 4, 2000, in which rioters set fire to buildings and attacked officers using stones, improvised weapons and other hard objects in a conflict with Vietnamese inmates. That riot saw 38 officers and 71 inmates injured. The damage was put at HK$10 million. The recommended starting point for sentencing in that case was six years. Barrister Ronny Tong Ka-wah SC said it was “understandable and appropriate” for the judge to draw reference from the Whitehead case. “The Mong Kok riot had a much bigger impact on society as a whole and involved more people ... but the Whitehead case was the closest reference the judge could draw from,” he told the Post.