A couple and a student on Friday (24/7) were cleared of rioting in Sheung Wan during anti-extradition bill protests that gripped Hong Kong last year.
Thirty-nine-year-old Henry Tong and his 42-year-old wife Elaine To, a couple who own a gym, and a 17-year-old female surnamed Lee were accused of taking part in a riot in Sheung Wan on July 28 last year.
The District Court acquitted the three defendants of rioting charges. The three were also not found guilty of the alternative charge of unlawful assembly.
But the couple were convicted of possession of apparatus for radio communications without a licence. Two walkie-talkies were found in their backpacks on July 28 last year. The couple were each fined HK$10,000.
The case of the trio was the first trial of riot charges since the anti-extradition bill protests that began in June last year.
The couple left the court and met the media after the ruling. They told reporters that they felt relieved when they heard about the decision. The couple said they would not celebrate their acquittal as there were still many people who were not given an impartial ruling.
The couple hoped defendants in other cases could demonstrate persistence and get through the mental stress resulting from their trials.
They also hoped Hongkongers could fight until the end, saying they would call for a celebration after all relevant cases are given a fair and an impartial ruling.
The couple thanked their lawyers, and family members and friend who had been showing their support. Outside the court, almost a hundred embraced the couple, chanting slogans including “No rioters, only tyranny”.
According to the judgement, a riot broke out in the area on Des Voeux Road West near Western Street on July 28 last year. Prosecutors had no direct evidence of what the three people did at the time of the riot, the judegement said.
Their case was solely based on circumstantial evidence, such as the three defendants’ clothing, gear, and the three attempts to escape from the police’s hunt.
District Court judge Anthony Kwok Kai-on concluded that the prosecution failed to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt.
With regard to clothing and gear, the evidence the prosecution relied on is that the three defendants were accused of wearing dark clothing, a helmet and a face mask while saline was allegedly found from the couple.
However, the judgement said the three defendants’ clothing or gear is only for protective and medical uses but not for rioting. The judgement also said their clothing or gear is not offensive per se.
Even if the couple were first-aiders and offered assistance to protesters or rioters at the scene, this does not mean the couple would agree with their ideas, nor that the couple would only limit their assistance to protesters but ignore other injured people, according to Kwok.
Kwok said, according to the present evidence, the prosecution did not have any evidence to let the court infer that the couple limited their first-aid services to protesters but not any other person, including police officers. As such, the court cannot deny the possibility that the couple were to offer first aid-services to whoever in need on July 28 last year, he said.
In the verdict, the district court judge pointed out that the three defendants’ “attire and conduct on the day were very suspicious”. But the prosecution, when giving evidence, relied on circumstantial evidence entirely, Kwok said.
Kwok stressed the ruling only reflected the condition of the presented court evidence related to the case. He said the ruling was based on the common law principles of "the benefit of the doubt should go to the defendant" and the “Blackstone’s ratio", a concept in criminal law saying that it is better that "ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer".
He also said the court, under the common law, has always followed principles including the presumption of innocence in dealing with criminal cases.
For their conviction of possession of walkie-talkies without a license, Kwok said clearly he did not intend to give a imprisonment sentence to the couple. After considering the couple's background and income status, the judge decided to sentence each a fine of HK$10,000, which must be paid within 14 days.