The first and only person to be convicted of rioting over violent clashes on a notorious date of the 2019 Hong Kong protests has been jailed for four years, after the judge dismissed his defence that he was attending the anti-government demonstration as a volunteer paramedic.
Transport worker Chan Cho-ho, 25, was sentenced for his role in the outbreak of violence on the night of August 31, 2019, when an unauthorised rally from Wan Chai to Central descended into chaos that spread across Hong Kong Island.
Six co-defendants were cleared of the same charge last month as prosecutors failed to prove their guilt based solely on circumstantial evidence, including their black attire and presence near the protest scene.
Passing sentence on Monday, District Judge Frankie Yiu Fun-che said the case involved large-scale disorder outside the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay, where 300 black-clad protesters – most of whom were wearing protective armour – set fire to roadblocks, hurled petrol bombs and shone flashlights at officers.
“In the present case, the riot was clearly not one that took place spontaneously ... It was extremely threatening [to public safety],” the judge said.
Delivering Chan’s guilty verdict last month, Yiu said it was clear the defendant was equipped with a chest guard, arm bracers, respirator, helmet and a pair of goggles so he could take part in the riot.
The judge dismissed Chan’s claim that he had intended to offer first aid to those injured using six rolls of bandages in his rucksack.
However, Yiu said there was no evidence Chan assumed a leading role in the riot, nor was there any suggestion the unrest had resulted in casualties.
The judge set a starting point of sentence at 4½ years in jail, deducting six months after considering the defendant’s personal circumstances. He also fined Chan HK$5,000 (US$644) for his unlicensed possession of a walkie-talkie at the scene.
The court heard Chan, who was sentenced to correctional training for drug trafficking in 2013, suffered from hyperactive disorder and dropped out of school after struggling to adapt to campus life.
After his mother was diagnosed with depression, he became a transport worker to make ends meet.
In Monday’s mitigation, Chan’s counsel Hectar Pun Hei SC said his client obtained a first aid certificate from the Hong Kong St John Ambulance Brigade in 2006, and had become a teaching assistant in some of the organisation’s courses.
The lawyer described Chan as a talented young man, adding he had been praised for voluntarily distributing masks and disinfectant to the elderly during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“At the time of the present offence, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Pun said.
Meanwhile, Yiu rejected the cost applications lodged by two co-defendants who were acquitted after the trial in November, ruling they had brought suspicion upon themselves by remaining in the area despite repeated police warnings.
A total of 15 defendants have stood trial on rioting charges over the demonstrations on Hong Kong Island on August 31, 2019. Fourteen of those have been acquitted.
The justice department indicated it would appeal against the acquittal of 12 defendants, including the case of Jackie Chan Hung-sau.
The presiding judge in that case concluded prosecutors had failed to build a prima facie case requiring the social worker to submit a defence.
Following a day of widespread violent clashes on August 31, police that night entered Prince Edward MTR station using batons and pepper spray on protesters, leading to accusations they had deployed excessive force.