Ten of the 43 people accused of rioting or illegal assembly in connection with the Feb. 8 street clashes in Mong Kok were released on Thursday after the prosecution dropped charges against them.
Derek Lam, a member of now-defunct student activist group Scholarism, and Koo Bok-him, editor of the University of Hong Kong Students’ Union publication Undergrad, walked free along with eight others after the Kowloon City Magistrates’ Court approved the prosecution’s request, Apple Daily reports.
The rest, including Edward Leung Tin-kei of localist group Hong Kong Indigenous, were all granted bail while the hearing of their cases were adjourned to May 10 so that further police investigation could be conducted and legal opinions sought.
The prosecution told the court that video clips from the police showed the 10 people were at the scene but there was no evidence to confirm they had participated in illegal gathering or rioting.
The magistrate also allowed Lam and Koo to apply for compensation for their litigation fees, about HK$80,000 in Koo’s case, while Lam, who was arrested on Feb.10 at the Hong Kong International Airport as he was about to leave for Taipei on a trip with his family, said he will seek to get back the amount spent for the cancelled trip, including prepaid air tickets and hotel bookings.
Lam said outside the court he was happy to see his name cleared but the fact that charges were dropped against nearly one in four arrested for the incident suggested the police had made “political” arrests without solid evidence and abused their authority.
He said he might file a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Council after seeking opinions.
In a reply to Apple Daily’s enquiry, the Department of Justice said the police decision to make arrests was based on different standards from those the department uses to decide whether to prosecute or not.
Grenville Cross, former director of public prosecutions, said he was surprised the DOJ decided to drop the charges against the 10 people, adding that the move was “worrisome” and suggested it knew there was insufficient evidence before it filed the charges, Ming Pao Daily reports.
If that were so, the defendants should not have been brought to court in the first place, Cross said.
Holding a similar opinion, barrister Ronny Tong said the DOJ should never charge people based only on reasonable doubt but should have substantial evidence to back up its actions.
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