Prosecutions in connection with Mong Kok violence between demonstrators and police on the night of 8 to 9 February 2016
See overview below.
On Chinese New Year 2016, violence broke out between police and demonstrators in Mong Kok, Hong Kong. It was the biggest incident of police-demonstrator violence in the city since the 1967 leftist riots.
It started with Food and Environmental Hygiene Department officials trying to stop unlicensed hawkers from selling food. At Chinese New Year, many people sell traditional foods at impromptu markets. They can neither afford licenses nor do most want them as they only sell for that occasion (or on other holidays as well). The original intention behind requiring licenses of hawkers was to control them and ensure food safety, but many feel FEHD clampdowns such as the one on Chinese New Year are unreasonable and make no allowance for the fact that there is virtually no other way for people to both continue traditions and fulfill regulatory requirements. There is certainly no public demand for holiday hawkers to be controlled or any evidence that they constitute any threat to public order or safety.
On that night, many people attempted to protect the hawkers from the FEHD clampdown, and the FEHD called in the police. The police apparently decided that acting in a tough and intimidating manner would be the best way to disperse those defending the hawkers. Instead, police actions provoked even more people to come out. Police appeared unprepared for these numbers. Pushing and shoving escalated into pepperspraying and baton blows on the police side, and brick-throwing and Molotov cocktails on the demonstrators’ side. The violence escalated to the point that a police officer fired his pistol twice into the air, supposedly in defense of fellow officers he felt to be in danger. It was the first time a police officer had discharged a firearm with live ammunition at a protest-related event in living memory. The police force later commended the officer for his action. Skirmishing between police and demonstrators continued for several hours into the early morning. There was virtually no damage to private property.
The HK government and police immediately initiated a propaganda campaign, calling the violence a ‘riot’, which conveniently overlooked the police role in starting the violence. They rejected demands for an independent investigation into policing on the night in question. Since then, almost all of the focus has been on the prosecutions of demonstrators involved in the violence.
The HK government has gotten a much higher percentage (77%) of convictions than average (about 40%). It has also used judges’ apparent abhorrence of demonstrator violence to its advantage in cases involving nonviolent demonstrators, claiming that those demonstrators should have known their actions could lead to violence and even claiming that violence occurred at events for which they were prosecuted, even though they were prosecuted for the nonviolent offense of unlawful assembly. Most prominently, 16 young activists who originally received community service sentences for unlawful assembly were subsequently sentenced by the High Court to between six and 13 months in prison upon government appeal after the Mong Kok ‘riot’ convictions.
Overview of Mong Kok prosecutions
charges dropped against 20 defendants due to lack of evidence, leaving…
31 to prosecute
15 trials completed
11 convicted on 14 counts
sentenced to cumulatively 20 years, 9 months, 21 days (sentences range from 21 days to 4 years & 9 months; all 7 ‘riot’ convictions resulted in 3-year sentences each)
4 acquitted on 4 counts (2 counts of ‘riot’, 2 counts of assaulting officer)
10 currently on trial (2 have plead guilty, 1 on bail awaiting sentencing)
1 absconded (apparently to Taiwan)
5 to be tried starting 15 January 2018 (including Ray Wong & Edward Leung)