Four Hong Kong university students attempted to file an appeal overturning their riot convictions and sentences on Tuesday. However, the Hong Kong Court of Appeal unanimously refused to grant them leave to appeal on the same day. Judge Derek Pang Wai-cheong asserted that the court is starting to lose patience with riot defendants, claiming they were reporters or humanitarian workers without giving testimonies at trial, according to a report from the Witness, a local news outlet.
As reported by the Witness, the would-be appeal involved four out of five defendants from the same case, who were all charged with rioting in violation of the Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation and possession of weapons. Initially, all four appellants intended to bring an appeal on both convictions and sentences. At the beginning of the appeal hearing, three of the defendants withdrew their appeals on convictions and only continued with their appeals on sentences.
The remaining defendant who appealed against his conviction suggested that the conviction was not safe because the defendant participating in the riot is not the only irresistible inference. The counsel representing the appellant contended that there was a possibility that the defendant was a reporter at the time despite wearing helmets and masks. Even though the defendant wore a black t-shirt, which in fact represented the residential college he lived in.
The appellate court did not accept these grounds. Pang suggested that these claims were simply groundless when the defendant did not testify during the trial. Without the defendant’s testimonies, the court simply cannot imagine for the defendant why he was at the scene when the riot took place. On the other hand, prosecutors suggested that the geographical proximity between the defendant’s whereabouts and the riot, and equipment commonly found on protesters could provide for an overwhelming and the only reasonable inference without the defendant’s testimony. Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal.
In terms of the appeal on sentence, the court found that there is no disparity in the defendants’ sentences since the principle they cited is only applicable to the same crime. Pang added that different lengths of sentences on the same crime ordered by different judges at the same level of court would not render disparity in sentence by itself. Pang criticized the fact there were ample prior cases that found it was meaningless to compare sentences of the same crime.
The appellants fell back upon the suggestion that there were other cases of a more severe nature that were given lighter sentencing. The court also ruled out this argument, contending that this case was serious because the defendants’ actions could have caused serious traffic injuries. Subsequently, the court also dismissed all appeals against sentencing.
This case involved the protest that took place at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). Protesters occupied CUHK in a bid to paralyze the major highways connecting New Territories and Kowloon to cause a strike. This was a part of the 2019 anti-extradition bill amendment protests. The protest in this case was intensified by the death of a student protester caused by delayed medication due to police intervention, as suggested in a public letter written by the ex-headmaster of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. At the time, the police denied the allegation.