Mass arrest of protesters on Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, November 18, 2019

Arrests and trials of Hong Kong protesters

As of September 8, 2021, at least 10,429 protesters have been arrested and 2,832 prosecuted.

On June 9, 2019, over one million Hong Kong people marched to protest against a government plan to legalize extradition to China. This was the beginning of many months of protests, in which at least two million of Hong Kong’s 7.3 million people took part. The protests have been met by a wide-ranging, intense and on-going crackdown, an important part of which is the arrests and prosecutions of protesters and freedom struggle leaders. The Chinese Communist Party is essentially dismantling a formerly liberal society, and its use of the judicial system to persecute citizens exercising their basic human rights in order to demand other basic human rights is a key element in its overall strategy of oppression.

This is a follow-up to an article that tracked protests and protest-related arrests in the Hong Kong freedom struggle up through November 2, 2019. That article has been split in two, with this one following arrests and trials and another following protests. The information here is updated regularly.

612 Humanitarian Relief Fund was set up expressly to assist protesters by providing legal defense aid and is the largest of its kind in Hong Kong. As of the end of May 2021, it had spent HK$236,383,746 in donations to aid 22,938 protesters. Please consider making a donation, one of the best ways to support Hong Kong protesters on trial. (UPDATE: As of September 6, 2021, the fund has temporarily stopped accepting donations. It has itself become a victim of the crackdown and has announced plans to cease operations by the end of October.)

CitizenNews (眾新聞) has an excellent database in Chinese on arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned protesters. It has data on acquittals missing from here and tracks cases in an interactive timeline.

The number of arrests is based on Hong Kong police figures, though it has now been a long time since the police released any overall figures. Thus, the number is now their last figure released plus additional arrests recorded by this site. The number of prosecutions is based on figures from Arrested Persons Concern Group (被捕人士關注組; Telegram: @youarenotalonehk).

Below are three tables: 1) an overview of arrests and prosecutions; 2) a list of protesters convicted and sentenced; and 3) a list of political and protest leaders arrested and charged since June 9, 2019, when 1.03 million people took part in a march against proposed amendments intended to legalize extradition to China, thus kicking off the current phase of the Hong Kong freedom struggle.

· In all, at least 10,429 people have been arrested for protest-related offenses. (As of June 30, 2020, 1,620 of those had been released unconditionally.)

· 1,329 are currently on trial; 679 for ‘riot’, 105 for possession of offensive weapons, 33 for assaulting police, 38 for arson, 37 for explosives-related offenses, and 16 for firearms-related offenses. In addition, 84 have been documented to be on trial under the so-called ‘national security law’; 70 of those 84 trials have been itemized: 2 for ‘inciting secession’, 2 for ‘secession’, 8 for ‘terrorism’ and ‘conspiracy to commit terrorism’; 11 for ‘colluding with foreign forces’, and 47 for ‘conspiracy to subvert state power’. The number of those currently on trial, 1,329, is down from a high of 1,703 as of 31 October 2020. The general trajectory since that peak has been steadily downward, both overall and in all categories of crimes including ‘riot’, which peaked at 721 on 15 March 2021 and since has declined less rapidly than the others to the current 679. The only three categories in which the number of protesters on trial has increased are explosives-related charges, firearms-related charges, and ‘nation security law’ charges.

As of June 30, 2020, 294 were on trial for unlawful assembly and 74 for criminal damage. As of October 15, 2020, 403 had been or were being tried for unlawful assembly.

The above crimes account for most of the prosecutions. Small numbers of protesters have been tried for other crimes including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstructing police, possession of radio communications equipment without a license, flag desecration, common assault, wounding, wounding with intent, causing grievous bodily harm with intent, wearing a facial covering at an unlawful assembly, possession of an item with intent to damage property, obstructing a public place, breaking and entering, burglary, contempt of court, and behaving in a noisy manner in a public place.

· 139 protesters are currently remanded in custody pending the outcome of their trial. This is the highest number of protesters on remand at any one time since the beginning of the protests in June 2019. For the period from June 2019 to July 2020, the number hovered generally between 60 and 100. The increase in the past year is due to the inception of the ‘national security law’, which, unlike common law practices, puts the onus on the defendant to prove s/he will not commit the offense with which he is charged if released on bail. As of early September 2021, 64 of the 84 charged under the ‘national security law’ were remanded.

· 1,503 legal proceedings have concluded, bringing the total number of protesters who have so far been prosecuted to 2,832. In addition, Arrested Persons Concern Group (被捕人士關注組) has lost track of the status of 45 protesters on trial.

· The numbers of those prosecuted, 2,832, and those released unconditionally, 1,620, amount to 4,452 of the at least 10,429 arrested. The cases of the remaining 5,977 arrestees are technically still ‘under investigation’. In all cases, police reserve the right to re-arrest and the Department of Justice to prosecute at a later date.

· 626 have been convicted; 333 on guilty pleas. 522 have been sentenced.

· Of the 522 who have been sentenced, 390 have received custodial sentences: 306 have been sentenced to prison, 83 to juvenile detention facilities, and 1 to a drug treatment centre. The longest prison sentence so far is 12 years. 105 have been sentenced to at least 1 year in prison. The 306 who have been sentenced to prison have received a total of 375 years, 4 months and 5 days, making for an average prison sentence of about 1.22 years. (Juvenile detention sentences have no fixed time, only providing for a maximum amount of time, to be reviewed periodically.)

Note: The numbers of those convicted and sentenced above are based on media reports and may not be complete. Typically, the increasingly infrequently released government figures on those ‘held legally responsible’ in regard to the protests are higher. But those figures are not itemized or disaggregated. For example, convictions and bindings-over are grouped together under the category ‘held legally responsible’ though bindings-over entail no admission of guilt or conviction. It may also be that the police figures include not only protesters but also counter-protesters. Several dozen counter-protesters have been prosecuted for attacking protesters and random citizens, and at least 18 have been convicted.

On July 27, 2020, Initium reported that as of June 30, 141 had been convicted, 3 sentenced to care or protection orders, 108 bound over, 12 acquitted, and charges dropped against 40.

On May 14, 2020, Hong Kong Police announced that 1,617 protesters have been prosecuted since June 9, 2019, a much higher figure than the, at the time, 1,401 documented cases. According to police, 595 have been put on trial for ‘riot’, 252 for possession of offensive weapons and 236 for unlawful assembly. On June 11, South China Morning Post reported, based on police information, that 1,749 have been prosecuted, again much higher than the, at the time, 1,644 documented cases. SCMP also reported 100 convictions, far higher than the 42 documented. Police do not publish itemized lists of those arrested and prosecuted, so it is impossible to check media and Arrested Person Concern Group reports against that list. SCMP also gave updated counts of arrestees by age: 1,707 are under 18, including 1,602 secondary students and eight primary students. 5,640 are between 18 and 30. In all, people 30 and under make up 80% of all arrestees as of June 11. On August 26, Hong Kong Police updated its figures: 9,672 protesters arrested through August 15; 2,093 prosecuted, of whom 471 have completed the judicial process, 396 of whom have had to “bear legal consequences” (including conviction, binding over and protective care orders). The most frequently prosecuted crimes were ‘riot’ (663), unlawful assembly (332) and possession of offensive weapons (322). On September 9, police again published an update: 10,016 arrested; 2,210 prosecuted, of whom 550 have completed the judicial process, 462 of whom have had to “bear legal consequences”. The most frequently prosecuted crimes were ‘riot’ (687), illegal assembly (383) and possession of offensive weapons (327). On October 28, Hong Kong Police updated its figures: 10,144 protesters arrested through October 15; 2,285 prosecuted, of whom 664 had completed the judicial process, 557 of whom had to “bear legal consequences” (including conviction, binding over and protective care orders).The most frequently prosecuted crimes were ‘riot’ (691), unlawful assembly (403) and possession of offensive weapons (329).

According to CitizenNews’ regularly updated database, as of 30 April 2021, 10,260 people have been arrested and 2,608 prosecuted. Of those prosecuted, 38.1% have been ‘held legally responsible’, 8.5% have been acquitted, 1% were granted care or protection orders, and 1.9% have had charges dropped, while in 50.5% of cases, judicial proceedings are still in progress.

From CitizenNews’ protest database

Apple Daily reports, “As of the end of April [2021], 715 people have been convicted, 277 were bound over and four were granted care or protection orders. Charges have been dropped for 51 people, and 224 were released after being cleared of their charges in court, according to the figures.”

Stand News has a full list (in Chinese) of the 107 people arrested under the “national security law” as of May 2020.

As of early June, different outlets were reporting slightly different figures on the overall number of people charged with ‘riot’. Stand News said 757; CitizenNews 760; and Apple Daily 750. Of those, Arrested Persons Concern Group reports 709 were still on trial as of 15 May 2021.

ChinaFile has an in-depth report on ‘national security law’ arrests, documenting 118 arrests under the ‘national security law’ or by the ‘national security department’ as of May 21, 2021. (download)

A particular aspect of the on-going government crackdown on the Hong Kong freedom struggle is its targeting of protest and opposition political leaders for arrest and prosecution. In all, as of September 8, 2021, it has arrested 169 freedom struggle leaders 293 times.

These leaders include 33 political party leaders, 19 former Legco members (there are no pro-democracy members remaining in Legco), 19 protest organizers, 3 student leaders, 95 District Councillors, 53 Legco candidates, 4District Council candidates, 6 primary organizers, 7 union leaders, 7 leaders of civil society groups, and 1 media owner.

105 have been charged in court, of whom 46 have been convicted 63 times. 10 have been acquitted. 18 of the 46 convicted have been sentenced to prison on 30 sentences. (See table below for details.)

On April 21, 2020 police started issuing suspected protesters with tickets for violating coronavirus social distancing rules implemented on March 28 that year. Since that latter date, all protests (or what the police refer to as ‘public gatherings’) have been officially and completely banned without exception. The right to freedom of assembly has been indefinitely suspended.

As of September 8, 2021, at least 594 people suspected of being protesters have been issued with such tickets.

Not a single case of coronavirus has been traced to people protesting while over the same period, protests have occurred in many other countries around the world, again with no evidence of coronavirus transmission. The scientific evidence of low risk of coronavirus infection from outdoor gatherings where social distancing measures are taken coupled with the wearing of face masks has also become more conclusive. Even while the Hong Kong government has more recently lifted or lessened restrictions on other forms of gathering, including those indoors where risks are higher, it has not lifted the prohibition on ‘public gatherings’ of more than four people outdoors.

On June 17, 2020 it was reported that police had issued 705 tickets of a fixed fine of HK$2,200 for breaching restrictions. Police do not keep records on how many of those fined were suspected protesters. On November 30, several were given ‘littering’ fines for placing flowers at Prince Edward MTR station, and on December 7, one was given a littering fine for placing a white origami crane at a memorial for Chow Tsz-lok in Tseung Kwan O.

On July 1, 2020 a new category was added to the list of arrests and trials of Hong Kong protesters: Those arrested and charged under the new so-called “national security law”, which came into effect on June 30, 2020 at 11 pm. Ten people were arrested on July 1 under the law and one person charged with “inciting secession” and “terrorism”. One person was arrested on July 21. Four were arrested on July 29. Ten were arrested on August 10. One was arrested on September 6. One was arrested on September 22. Two were arrested on September 24. One was arrested on October 4. On October 27, three were arrested under suspicion of having committed NSL crimes. For all three, it was their second NSL arrest. On November 9, one was arrested by officers in the national security department of the HK police force for “assisting fugitives”, the three arrested on October 27. On November 22, two were arrested on suspicion of secession under the NSL. On December 7, police arrested three people suspected of “inciting secession” over a protest at Chinese University of Hong Kong on November 19. On January 6 and 7, 2021, 55 were arrested under suspicion of “subversion” for organizing and participating in the July 11 and 12, 2020 pro-democracy Legco primaries. On January 14, 11 were arrested by national security police for ‘assisting criminals’ in relation to the flight of the Hong Kong 12 (see below). On March 24, one recently returned from prison in Shenzhen, China was charged with ‘secession’ under the NSL. On April 8, one was charged with ‘inciting secession’. In all, 114 arrests have reportedly been made under NSL. On April 14, one was charged with ‘colluding with foreign countries or external forces’. On April 30, one was arrested for ‘inciting secession’. On May 6, five were arrested for ‘subversion’. On June 6, two were arrested by national security police for ‘sedition’ and charged in court on June 8. On June 17, five were arrested for ‘collusion with foreign countries or external forces’. On June 18, two were charged in court with ‘collusion with foreign countries or external forces’. On June 23, one was arrested for ‘conspiracy to collude with foreign countries or external forces’. On July 6, nine were arrested under the NSL. On July 7, three were charged in court with ‘conspiracy to commit terrorism’. On July 12, five were arrested under the NSL. On July 21, one was arrested under the NSL. On July 30, one was sentenced to nine years in prison for ‘inciting secession’ and ‘terrorism’ under the NSL. On August 19, two plead guilty to ‘conspiracy to conspire with foreign forces’ under the NSL. On August 31, one was charged with ‘conspiracy to plan terrorist activities with intent to cause serious social harm’ under the NSL. On September 8, 4 were arrested under the NSL. As of September 8, 2021, 156 people have been arrested under the NSL or by the National Security Department (the unit of the Hong Kong Police Force responsible for investigating NSL crimes) and 84 have been charged in court under NSL. Only one NSL trial has concluded: On July 30, 2021, Tong Ying-kit was sentenced to 9 years in prison for ‘terrorism’ and ‘inciting secession’ after he drove his motorcycle into a group of police officers on July 1, 2020.

On August 23, 2020, the Guangdong Coast Guard apprehended twelve HK activists on a boat reportedly on its way to Taiwan and has been holding them incommunicado ever since, without contact with their families or family-appointed lawyers. These are the first HK protesters to be detained in China. On December 28, 10 of them were put on trial. Two were sentenced to prison terms of two and three years for organizing illegal border crossing; the other eight to prison terms of seven months each for illegal border crossing. Two of the 12 detained were minors and were returned to Hong Kong on December 30. 8 of the detainees completed their sentences in China and were returned to Hong Kong on March 22, 2021. All 10 have been remanded in custody pending trial for alleged crimes committed in Hong Kong

Author of ‘Umbrella: A Political Tale from Hong Kong’ and ‘As long as there is resistance, there is hope: Essays on the Hong Kong freedom struggle…’