HKU council controversy

Former student leaders handed community service over chaotic University of Hong Kong siege

Billy Fung, 23, had been charged with disorderly conduct in a public place, criminal damage and attempted forcible entry, while Colman Li, 22, was charged with obstructing a public officer

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 4:47pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 11:37pm

Two former student leaders were spared jail on Thursday after admitting they had been wrong and apologising for the chaotic siege of a University of Hong Kong governing council meeting last year.

Former student union president Billy Fung Jing-en, 23, was sentenced to 240 hours of community service on three charges – disorderly conduct in a public place, criminal damage and attempted forcible entry.

His then vice-president, Colman Li Fung-kei, 22, received 200 hours for one summons of obstructing a public officer in the performance of his duty.

Both men were convicted in July, but only Fung pleaded guilty to the charges of criminal damage and attempted forcible entry.

Fung and Li, both wearing their university ties, appeared calm as the sentences were announced, contrasting with the loud round of applause that erupted in the public gallery.

Their family members were also seen comforting each other, before later gathering in a small group to pray with the duo.

“You can return to school now. Congratulations,” some of their supporters said to them in between warm embraces exchanged after sentencing.

Magistrate Ko Wai-hung, who had earlier warned that a custodial sentence was likely, said there was no need for a deterrent sentence after considering the seriousness of the crime, the impact on victims, the slim chance of reoffending and the need for rehabilitation.

Former Hong Kong student leaders face jail over university council siege

He accepted that both Fung and Li had shown genuine remorse, a prerequisite for sentencing community service orders.

But he slammed them for failing to set an example as leaders and bringing shame to the university, which he said was not fair because they left the public with a negative impression of students.

“The status of being a university student is not a halo,” the magistrate said. “Your every move is under society’s spotlight.”

While the court understood that students might aspire to change injustice in society, violence could not be tolerated, he said. Once there was unlawful conduct, public attention would be diverted to the crime, no matter how righteous the cause might be.

“I hope you will share the law-abiding principle with your peers,” he continued.

Fung and Li had no comment after the trial, while the university said it respected the ruling.

A Department of Justice spokesman said: “We will study the magistrate’s reasons for sentence and the prosecuting counsel’s case report and then decide whether any follow-up action is called for.”

Defence counsel Martin Lee Chu-ming SC revealed that the community service order report had recommended a span of 161 to 240 hours for both defendants, after observing that they had shown remorse for breaking the law and readiness to make up for it.

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The report noted that Fung “regretted what he did and considered his impulsive and aggressive behaviour foolish” as it had harmed his beloved university, an outcome vastly different from what he set out to accomplish.

It also found that Li understood that his impulsive conduct could hurt his ambition of becoming a barrister, and revealed that the law student would focus on his studies and never participate in protests again.

The case centred on a rowdy protest on January 26 last year at the venue on campus where students laid siege to the council, seeking talks with chairman Arthur Li Kwok-cheung.

The court heard that Fung rallied protesters to prevent Li’s departure and forced his way back to the building when the education veteran retreated, damaging a glass door in the process.

Colman Li blocked the stretcher carrying councillor Leonie Ki, who had complained of feeling unwell. He delayed paramedics for more than an hour in getting her to hospital.