A Hong Kong court on Thursday found three people guilty of rioting in a case related to the violent incidents that took place in Mong Kok in February last year.
The District Court ruled that the charge of rioting against three persons — two men and a woman — was justified, making them the first people to be convicted over the 2016 clashes.
The trio had been accused of hurling objects, including glass bottles and bamboo sticks, at police officers during street protests over hawker regulations.
Following the guilty verdict, a judge is set to announce jail sentences Friday.
The three protesters — a 33-year-old male chef surnamed Sit; a 23-year-old female university student surnamed Hui; and a 20-year-old male surnamed Mak, who is now unemployed — could face up to 7 years in jail.
The Hong Kong Economic Journal noted that Thursday’s verdict marks the first time in over a dozen years that someone has been convicted on rioting charges in the city.
After the ruling, all three were denied bail and remanded in custody ahead of sentencing.
Under the Public Order Ordinance, the maximum sentence for rioting is 10 years imprisonment, but the District Court only has the authority to hand down terms up to seven years.
The court heard earlier from the prosecution that the three were arrested near Soy Street in the early hours of Feb. 9 last year after they were accused of hurling glass bottles and bamboo sticks at police during clashes that began during the night.
On Feb. 8, the first day of the Lunar New Year in 2016, several people staged a protest after officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department tried to evict street hawkers from Portland Street.
During the demonstrations, people engaged in violent clashes with the police, prompting officials to describe the event as a riot.
More than 20 people were subsequently charged with rioting.
Sit, Hui and Mak have all denied the charge against them, but judge Sham Siu-man said he is convinced that the three were among the rioters.
In his ruling, the judge said the incident was a riot for sure and what the defendants did was clearly violence, regardless of casualties or damage.
Sham dismissed the claim that the defendants were only bystanders, saying they could have just kept a distance from the other rioters instead of running along with them.
The defendants’ lawyers, meanwhile, asked the judge to be lenient in sentencing.
Calling the convictions not surprising, former lawmaker Ronny Tong, who is a barrister by profession, said people can be convicted of rioting if their acts result in breach of peace in society, which is what the case is about.
Tong, however, doesn’t expect the three to receive the maximum penalty, as he believes their offense was not that serious and also because there was no direct testimony.
[Chinese version 中文版]
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