Hong Kong courts

Pro-establishment supporters jailed for illegal protest under same rules that saw Nathan Law put behind bars

Judge jails each for three months after incident where pro-democracy activist was assaulted

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 December, 2017, 8:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 December, 2017, 10:58pm

Four pro-establishment supporters convicted of taking part in an illegal protest that saw pro-democracy student activist Nathan Law Kwun-chung being assaulted were jailed for three months on Wednesday.

The magistrate in the case applied the same new sentencing principles that sent Law and his fellow Occupy protesters to jail earlier this year.

Delivery man Giok Kheng, 53, retired nurse Kwong Kwai-sim, 69, retirees Tong Fat-cheung, 72, and Lau Pit-chuen, 71, were among a wider crowd who attacked Law at a protest at Hong Kong International Airport when he returned from a trip to Taiwan on January 8 this year.

They were found guilty of taking part in an unlawful assembly. Giok, Tong and Kwong were also each found guilty of one count of common assault on Law.

West Kowloon Court heard at least three of them attended the assembly because they wanted to protect the unity of China, unhappy that Law, then a lawmaker, flew to the strait to attend a pro-independence forum.

Nathan Law felt his ‘life was under grave threat’ in Hong Kong airport attack by pro-China mob

But sentencing the defendants, Magistrate Edward Wong Ching-yu said although Hong Kong had freedom of expression, there was a line that cannot be crossed, citing the Court of Appeal.

He was referring to the appeal court’s earlier judgment on Law and two fellow activists, Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Alex Chow Yong-kang, when they sent them to jail for storming the government headquarters two days before the Occupy protests on September 28, 2014.

The trio was originally given suspended sentences or community service, but the appeal court strengthened the punishment at the prosecutors’ requests under new sentencing principles it handed down. It said when violence was involved in protests, it crossed the line and hence an immediate jail sentence would be inevitable – a decision hailed by pro-Beijing supporters at the time.

Wong adopted the higher court’s approach, before concluding the violence, or at least threats to use violence, were some of the elements in the present case.

“[Law’s] safety was endangered and he was injured,” he said, adding that the case was serious, and the defendants showed no remorse.

“An immediate custodial sentence is inevitable,” he said.

Their supporters in the public gallery immediately jeered at the magistrate. “Blind judge,” one yelled, before another compared the magistrate to a dog.

Lau vowed to appeal to the highest court in the People’s Republic of China, even though the highest jurisdiction in the city is the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.

They were all given bail pending an appeal.

The court previously heard Law was punched, kicked and had liquid poured on him by the mob the day after returning from Taiwan. The trip was made prior to Law being disqualified as a legislator over a legal bid lodged by the government.

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Although Law failed to identify all of the defendants, the magistrate had viewed footage taken at the scene and found that the four were present and had breached public order.

While Giok and Tong pulled Law, Wong said, Kwong used a placard to hit him. Police and security guards were required to stop them, including Lau, who rushed towards Law.

During the trial, Giok testified that by not resisting, he believed Law consented to the violence because Law felt he had done some wrong. But Wong rejected the claim, saying that it was obvious Law was under protection, and that the activist had never asked the guards to stop protecting him.

The magistrate accepted Law as an honest and reliable witness.

He acquitted Lam Kam-sheung, who faced both the assault and unlawful assembly charges, as he was not able to confirm her presence through the videos.

In mitigation, Foster Yim, for Giok and Tong, said they committed the offence because of a noble belief.

“He thought Law who received pay [as a lawmaker] attended pro-independence activities in Taiwan and may even bring that to Hong Kong,” he said, referring to Giok.

They only cared about the future of the mainland and Hong Kong and wanted to protect its unity, he said.