Hong Kong protests: Teenager pleads guilty to rioting during 2019 unrest, receives detention sentence

  • The 16-year-old is the youngest person to plead guilty to rioting during the anti-government demonstrations two years ago
  • The current Form Four student, who took part in a clash at Polytechnic University, will remain at a detention centre for between one and six months

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Polytechnic University was the site of a major clash between protesters and police in November 2019. Photo: SCMP/Jonathan Wong

A judge on Wednesday sentenced a 16-year-old student, the youngest person to plead guilty to rioting during Hong Kong’s anti-government protests, to up to six months in a detention centre.

The teenager became the first confessed rioter to avoid actual prison time since the 2019 social unrest.

District Judge Ernest Lin Kam-hung ruled that remanding the teenager in a detention centre – a special type of facility reserved for young male offenders – “for a short period of time with counselling” was appropriate as an alternative to imprisonment.

Lin said the ruling reflected the court’s intention to help the young man turn over a new leaf, but stressed the student must take responsibility for his own actions as he was already “mentally mature” when he was arrested at the age of 14.

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“The defendant might have been convinced by certain academics or politicians to ‘achieve justice by violating the law’ … If he did so and thought that he could be forgiven for committing illegal acts, this is fallacious, because the concept is subjective,” he said.

“Without doubt, the defendant flouted the law and must bear the consequence.”

Because he is between the ages of 14 and 20, the teen’s stay in the detention centre will last anywhere from one to six months. Whether he is released before the six months are up will depend on his conduct.

The PolyU protest extended onto the Hung Hom bypass. Photo: SCMP / Edmond SoUpon release from a detention centre, offenders may be subjected to a supervision period of one year and expected to obey certain requirements, including abiding by a curfew.

The boy admitted to hurling a petrol bomb towards an officer, without injuring him, during a riot involving about 70 protesters that broke out in the shopping district of Mong Kok on November 16, 2019, the night of a major clash at nearby Polytechnic University.

The magistrate issued a gag order to protect the identity of the defendant, who had turned 15 by the time he was charged last June. Now a Form Four student, he pleaded guilty to one count each of rioting and attempted arson.

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In his ruling, the district judge rejected the student’s defence that he had been “instigated” by others to hurl the petrol bomb, noting that his black outfit and gear were the same as that worn by violent protesters at the scene, and his refusal to leave the site despite warnings by the force.

Footage showed the bomb he hurled landed about 20 metres away from the police officer in question during the midnight clash.

“Although no one was injured, his acts made the atmosphere more intense, encouraged protesters to continue with their acts, and increased officers’ difficulties in enforcing the law,” Lin said.

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The judge said he would have “no hesitation” in imprisoning adult offenders to reflect the seriousness of rioting, for which five-year sentences had been generally adopted as the starting point for sentencing.

But considering the offender’s young age and his earnest attitude in school, he said the student should not be behind bars if there were alternatives allowed under the Juvenile Offenders Ordinance.

“The penalty aims to protect the public and prevent similar cases from happening … but a probation order would not send such a signal to the public,” he said, adding that remanding him in a detention centre was the most appropriate course of action.

The second youngest defendant, Lee Man-him, who was 16 at the time of the offence, was sentenced to three years and four months for his part in a riot in a Hong Kong shopping centre during which a police constable was injured.

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