A court in Hong Kong on Monday jailed a first-aid volunteer for four years, citing his presence at a pro-democracy protest in Causeway Bay in 2019.
Chan Cho-ho was handed the sentence for “rioting” and “possessing an unlicensed radio communication device” along with a H.K.$5,000 fine by the District Court, for his part in the Aug. 31, 2019 protest.
Judge Frankie Yiu said the “riot” had involved more than 300 people and lasted for around half an hour, during which Molotov cocktails were thrown.
Yiu dismissed Chan’s status as a first-aid volunteer. Six co-defendants were acquitted of the same charges.
Chan’s mother burst into tears when the sentence was passed, while Chan himself wiped away tears.
The sentence came despite multiple witnesses vouching for Chan, who is a badged volunteer with the St. John Ambulance Brigade, including his teachers and a district councilor.
Chan’s defense team had argued that there was scant evidence to support the charge of “rioting,” point out that he had neither acted violently himself, nor incited others to do so.
The charge of “rioting” under Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance, which has been criticized by rights groups for infringing on the right to peaceful protest, carries a maximum jail term of 10 years.
Yiu said he had already reduced Chan’s sentence because the defendant hadn’t disputed the material facts of the case.
Chan’s sentencing comes amid an ongoing crackdown on peaceful dissent in Hong Kong, under a draconian national security law imposed on the city by Beijing from July 1, 2020.
Chinese state security police
The law granted sweeping powers to Hong Kong’s own national security police, and also to mainland Chinese state security police operating in the city, to enforce the law and investigate cases.
The city government is increasingly requiring anyone in public office to pledge allegiance and accept the law, which bans any public criticism of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or the Hong Kong government, and criminalizes overseas campaigning and lobbying on behalf of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Four pro-democracy members of the Legislative Council (LegCo) were stripped of their seats for protesting in the chamber, prompting the mass resignation of the entire opposition camp.
The Civil Service Bureau recently issued a notice to policy bureaus and departments that any civil servant hired before July 1, 2020 must sign a declaration supporting the Basic Law and allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region within four weeks, while department heads have already begun taking oaths in special ceremonies, according to video footage posted by the government.
Anyone refusing will likely be judged unsuitable to continue in their post, a government spokesperson warned last week.
Civil service unions have expressed concern over whether the pledge will bar them from attending protests or from talking to journalists, government broadcaster RTHK reported.
Some 180,000 civil servants could lose their jobs if they refuse to sign the declaration.
Leung Chau-ting, chairman of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, said a few members have already told him that they are not going to sign, the station reported on Monday.
The Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants’ Association has demanded a clear explanation from the government about what will happen to those who refuse to sign, RTHK said.
Reported by Gigi Lee for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.