Set aside prejudice and media reports, judge warns as jury is selected for Mong Kok riot trial
High-profile activist Edward Leung and four others face charges related to 2016 disturbance in popular shopping area
A Hong Kong judge repeatedly urged jurors-to-be to put aside prejudice and media reports to avoid “grievous injustice”, as a court on Tuesday selected a jury panel to try a high-profile activist and his co-defendants over a widely reported disturbance in a popular local shopping area in 2016.
Five women and four men were picked at the High Court in a random draw to decide the fate of Edward Leung Tin-kei and four others in an estimated 60-day trial centred on the unrest in Mong Kok between February 8 and 9 two years ago.
The wider pool of some 80 candidates included a family member of a police officer and a “stern supporter” of Hong Kong Indigenous, a pro-independence group of which Leung was once the convenor. Both did not make the cut due to concerns over potential bias.
The nine selected jurors will be officially empanelled on Wednesday after taking an oath. The prosecutors are expected to open their case thereafter.
Leung and the four others – Lee Nok-man, Lo Kin-man, Lam Ngo-hin and Lam Lun-hing – are facing various charges accusing them of either taking part or inciting others to take part in riots and unlawful assemblies at Argyle Street, Shantung Street, Portland Street and Fa Yuen Street during the Lunar New Year in 2016.
Before drawing the panel of nine inside Courtroom Seven of the High Court on Tuesday, Madam Justice Anthea Pang Po-kam said she noticed that the incident had attracted extensive media coverage – as well as a string of comments, both online and offline – before it had come to the court.
She therefore warned the potential jurors: “In respect of the press coverage of the case, details available on the internet and other information, put them behind. Ignore them.”
Pang noted that some of those present may have heard things about the case during discussions with their relatives. She cautioned that details heard outside the court might not be fully accurate. Nor were outside sources able to paint the full picture or give the defendants’ lawyers ample opportunity to launch challenges.
“It would cause grievous injustice to the case,” the judge said, as she ordered the candidates not to conduct their own research. The jurors should let the evidence play out in court and return verdicts based solely on this she said.
One potential juror, a woman, raised concerns, saying that one of her family members worked for the police force.
“It would be very difficult for me to approach this fairly … given the huge conflicts,” she said.
A male candidate said: “I was a stern supporter of Hong Kong Indigenous before 2016.”
“My wife and I had even donated money to them,” he added.
Pang did not immediately excuse the two, as she said she had already told them what to do in such situations. But she was able to fill the panel with the remaining candidates, so their services were not required.
Leung, who has been remanded into jail custody since he pleaded guilty last month to one count of assaulting a police officer during the same incident, has denied two counts of rioting and one of inciting others to riot.
Lee, Lo, and Lam Ngo-hin each denied one count of rioting, while Lam denied a further count of taking part in an unlawful assembly. Lam Lun-hing denied three counts of rioting.
The case continues on Wednesday.