Twenty people were found guilty on Saturday of taking part in a 2019 Hong Kong riot, although three others were acquitted by a judge who invoked a recent top court ruling on whether prosecutors could use the “joint enterprise” principle in charging those not arrested at the scene. Prosecutors had accused all 23 defendants of taking part in a riot between Western Street and Queen Street in the city’s Sheung Wan neighbourhood on July 28 of that year. Protesters marched towards Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong and used a variety of objects to block the area outside Western Police Station. After postponing the verdict to take the top court’s ruling into account, District Court Judge Johnny Chan Jong-herng found 20 defendants guilty with a “participatory intent”. The legal point was touched on extensively last week by the Court of Final Appeal, which had been asked to decide if prosecutors could use the common law principle of joint enterprise to lay rioting charges on those not caught at the scene. The court ruled that prosecutors were required to prove a suspect’s participation, or “participatory intent”, for a rioting charge to be appropriate. The door remained open, however, for the government to file charges of conspiracy or aiding and abetting if the evidence supported it. Top court declares unlawful some aspects of ‘joint enterprise’ rule for rioting cases In freeing defendants Cheung Ka-chung, Law Man-wing and Polly Choi Po-yu, Chan said there was insufficient evidence as to what they had been doing before their arrests. Despite having been dressed in black, a colour identified with protesters, he said: “Due to the lack of evidence, the court cannot be sure a riot or an unlawful assembly took place in [the defendants’] whereabouts.” Chan also ruled there was no proof they had aided or abetted rioters Those convicted were: Mok Cheuk-fai, Tsui Hing-kwan, Cheung Chi-lun, Chan Tsz-hong, Jung Wang-yeung, Chan Hei-chun, Tsui Yiu-ming, Lam Siu-fung, Choy Chak-sun, Yeung Chi-sing, Lam Sing-yu, Wong Chung-yan, Wong Kan-shan, Lee Siu-hong, Chow Kam-to, Wong Fei-hung, Tam Sze-miu, Tam Yee-ting, Luk Ying-wai and Wong Pak-yin. Mok was convicted of a further count of assaulting a police officer, while Tsui was found guilty of an additional count of possessing a radio communications device without a licence. Choy, 40, was the oldest of the defendants, with the rest largely students or office clerks in their 20s. More than a hundred supporters showed up to Saturday’s hearing, which had been transferred to the more spacious West Kowloon Court in anticipation of a large turnout. Some burst into tears upon hearing the verdict, which could result in jail sentences of up to seven years. The judge adjourned mitigation arguments to December 4. The protest in Sheung Wan began as an authorised assembly at Chater Garden in Central earlier that day, though some participants then marched towards Beijing’s liaison office in Sai Wan despite police objections. The assembly escalated into a riot later that evening, the judge said, with protesters hurling objects at officers, passing bricks among themselves and kicking canisters of tear gas back towards police lines. Those found guilty had various degrees of involvement, Chan ruled, with some only standing among the demonstrators during the stand-off with police. Last week’s Court of Final Appeal ruling stemmed in part from a case related to the same 2019 protest. Student Natalie Lee Yuen-yui, 17, gym owner Tong Wai-hung, 39, and his wife, Elaine To – who were not caught in the middle of protest action – were acquitted of rioting after a judge found prosecutors had relied too heavily on their black attire and protective gear in determining their guilt. The ruling sparked an appeal from the Department of Justice asking for clarification of the joint enterprise principle.