A former student leader at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) was spared jail for his acts during a 2016 protest in which students barged into a meeting of the HKU governing council, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Billy Fung Jing-en, 23, president of the HKU Students’ Union in the 2015/16 academic year, was charged with criminal intimidation, criminal damage and attempted forcible entry in July last year after leading students in a siege of an HKU building on January 26 that year.
The protest led to clashes between students and police, and also left top officials of the council stranded inside a building for several hours.
The students were demanding an immediate review of HKU’s governance structure in a bid to insulate the university from political interference after the government appointed Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung as council chairman despite their strong opposition.
Fung pleaded guilty to damaging a door and trying to force his way into the meeting’s venue.
On Thursday Magistrate Ko Wai-hung ordered Fung to do 240 hours of community service for disorderly conduct in a public place, criminal damage and attempted forcible entry.
Another defendant, Colman Li Fung-kei, then external vice president of the student union, was ordered to do 200 hours of community service.
The duo said they will not appeal their cases.
The verdict, which was welcomed by the student leaders’ supporters in the courtroom, came after mitigation letters from nearly 250 people, including then vice chancellor Professor Peter Mathieson, and a confession statement from Fung himself were presented in court.
The judge said the reason he thinks the duo can be spared of deterrent penalty is they had admitted their mistakes and shown remorse.
That said, he stressed there was no premeditation, the defendants had no intention to harm Arthur Li, and the violence that occurred was light and short.
The magistrate also said freedom of demonstration has certain limits.
It is understandable that young people want to help rectify what they see as social injustice, but that they often ignore the fact that other people have their rights and reasons to hold different opinions, he said.
In his confession, Fung expressed that he felt sorry and regretful for what he did hurt the university to an extent beyond his expectations. He also apologized to the council members who suffered during the protest.
Li said he accepted the court’s decision, and a spokesman for the university said HKU respects the ruling.
Meanwhile, a spokesman from the Department of Justice said it will study the magistrate’s ruling and the prosecution’s report before deciding on the next move.
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