Hong Kong court sentences 4 for rioting over storming of legislature during 2019 protests

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A Hong Kong court on Thursday convicted four people of rioting during the assault on the city’s legislative council building at the height of anti-government protests more than four years ago.

The break-in on July 1, 2019 – the 22nd anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China – was one of the most chaotic episodes of the massive protests sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill.

Hundreds of protesters invaded Parliament that night, defacing paintings and breaking furniture. Some spray-painted slogans around the room and painted the territory’s emblem on a wall before leaving the scene as riot police cleared the surrounding streets with tear gas and then headed inside.

The legislature ultimately spent about HK$36 million (C$6.1 million) to repair the damage, the court heard earlier.

Six defendants, including actor Gregory Wong and two journalists, Wong Ka-ho and Ma Kai-chung, pleaded not guilty in 2023 to rioting charges.

On Thursday, Judge Li Chi-ho found four of the six defendants, including Gregory Wong, guilty of rioting. Wong Ka-ho and Ma were acquitted of the charge of rioting, but were found guilty of illegal entry into the legislature.

Li said in his written judgment that there was a directive asking everyone to leave. “I don’t see how the defense can distort the meaning of the word and exclude journalists from ‘everyone,'” he said.

People, some wearing hard hats, break windows on a door.
Hong Kong protesters broke into the Hong Kong Legislative Building in July 2019 amid protests over a controversial extradition measure. (Billy HC Kwok/Getty Images)

He added that it was a “bad idea” for Wong Ka-ho to think that journalists could stay there to document developments.

During the trial, Gregory Wong testified that he was there to deliver magazines to a journalist. But the judge disputed his arguments, saying he hugged a protester before leaving the room in a show of support.

“His intention of entering Parliament is obvious, is to join this riot,” he said.

Earlier, the court heard that defendant Lam Kam-kwan, who was convicted of rioting and a separate charge of criminal damage on Thursday, was arrested in mainland China in August 2019 and was forced to write a letter of repentance. Lam said Hong Kong police officers met him later and told him that if he did not admit wrongdoing, he would not be able to return to the city. The police denied threatening Lam.

Li said in his judgment that the accusations against the police “were nothing but lies.”

A gray-haired woman stands behind a steel barricade, holding a flag and raising her left arm.  She is surrounded by police.
A pro-democracy protester known as Granny Wong shouted slogans outside a Hong Kong court on Thursday. (Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images)

Eight other people, including activists Ventus Lau, Owen Chow and former student leader Althea Suen, were also charged with rioting in the same case and had previously pleaded guilty.

The 14 defendants will have the opportunity to reduce their sentence and request a more lenient sentence, which will be handed down in March.

Thousands of arrests

The 2019 protests were sparked by an extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects from Hong Kong to be sent to the mainland for trial. The government withdrew the bill, but protesters expanded their demands to include direct elections for city leaders and police accountability.

The social movement posed the biggest challenge to Hong Kong’s government since the city’s handover in 1997 and prompted Beijing to impose a national security law in 2020 to crack down on it. Following the introduction of the security law, many of the city’s leading activists were arrested, silenced or forced into exile.

More than 10,200 people have been arrested in connection with the protests for various crimes, such as rioting and participating in an unauthorized assembly.

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