Five current or former Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) students have been jailed for up to 59 months each for rioting and flouting a ban on wearing masks at public gatherings during a violent protest on the campus almost two years ago.
Tuesday’s ruling marked the second time a judge had handed down prison sentences over intense clashes between hardcore protesters and riot police that gripped the Sha Tin campus at the height of the anti-government unrest in November 2019.
Sentencing the five at West Kowloon Court, Deputy Judge Kathie Cheung Kit-yee said the defendants must have chosen to remain at the scene either to take part in the violence or abet the criminal acts of their comrades.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
The lack of evidence over the defendants’ level of involvement was no reason to reduce their jail sentences, she said, because all participants in a riot shared the same culpability regardless of their roles in it.
“Hong Kong is a place which upholds the rule of law, and a peaceful and tranquil community which shows no tolerance towards aimless acts that seriously disturb the peace, especially those targeting law enforcement officers,” Cheung said.
Four men – Lau Chun-yuk, Ko Chi-pan and Hui Yi-chuen, all 23, and Chan Lik-sik, 20 – were each jailed for 57 months. The only female defendant, Foo Hoi-ching, 23, received 59 months behind bars. She was out on police bail for another protest-related case when she was arrested in connection with this one.
The campus clashes arose from citywide marches on November 11 during which demonstrators paralysed Tolo Highway and the nearby MTR East Rail line by hurling objects from a bridge near CUHK’s rear entrance. Police later dispersed protesters and cordoned off the crossing.
The five students were arrested near the bridge at about 2.30pm, after protesters hurled 23 petrol bombs and other hard objects at police. Officers later seized a screwdriver and the metal head of a hammer from Foo, and a spanner from Hui.
The five were each convicted last month of one count of rioting and another of using facial coverings during an unlawful assembly, an offence introduced by the government in October 2019 by invoking colonial-era emergency legislation.
Foo and Hui were also found guilty of possession of offensive weapons or instruments fit for unlawful purposes.
Foo, a nursing student, remained defiant during mitigation on Tuesday, saying she was not sorry for what she had done and found Cheung’s earlier verdict unreasonable.
She described the riot charge under the Public Order Ordinance as a political tool to suppress dissent, accusing judges of playing their part by widening the offence’s application to potentially peaceful protesters.
“The law under an authoritarian regime is nothing but a violent means to regulate people’s behaviour without shedding blood,” Foo wrote in a letter to the judge.
“The court is not a place to deliver justice. This is just a place which superficially expresses concerns for public order without casting an eye on the root causes of the social divide.
“If the court, upon hearing my submission, takes the view that a hefty sentence can make me regret and reflect, then suit yourself.”
Lawyers representing Lau and Chan said the two men had been diagnosed with depression during proceedings that lasted nearly two years, and they still needed to take medication to this day.
The court also heard that Ko and Hui, who had both graduated, encountered difficulties finding jobs or starting their own businesses because of the case.
Lau, Chan and Foo have yet to graduate and are likely to be forced to discontinue their studies for failing to fulfil the requirements of completing their degrees within the maximum study period of seven years.
Chinese University was one of the tertiary institutions in Hong Kong hardest hit by the clashes between riot police and hardcore protesters in November 2019.
Only Polytechnic University, which was taken over for 13 days by extreme elements of the protest movement and their supporters, came out worse from one of the most violent phases of the months-long unrest, which was sparked by a since-withdrawn extradition bill in June 2019 but morphed into a wider anti-government campaign.