Eleven guilty of 'rioting' in Hong Kong based on clothing, equipment and location

The verdict comes amid fears that Hong Kong is getting less attractive as a business location.
By Jojo Man and Gao Feng
Eleven guilty of 'rioting' in Hong Kong based on clothing, equipment and location Protesters clash with police in Hong Kong on China's National Day, Oct. 1, 2019.

A court in Hong Kong on Friday found 11 people guilty of "rioting" in a 2019 National Day protest in the city's Wong Tai Sin district, acquitting one, local media reported.

Two among the 11 convicted -- who were aged 16-24 at the time of the protest -- were also found guilty of possession of offensive weapons. All had pleaded not guilty.

The verdict was given in a court hearing attended by large numbers of the defendants' friends and relatives, with some saying goodbye and taking photos together outside the court.

It came despite the judge admitting that there was no direct evidence that any of the defendants had taken part in a riot. Instead, the fact that they were in the vicinity of clashes between police and protesters and hadn't left supported a guilty verdict.

He said the group had been found in possession of goggles, respirator masks, helmets and other items typically used by protesters to protect themselves against the huge amounts of tear gas fired by police during the 2019 protests.

In the case of defendant Lau Chi-fung, who was dressed as a first-aider, "nobody appearing at the scene in a get-up like that could be a passer-by," Judge Edmond Lee told the court.

"It was clearly intended to show the rioters that there was a first-aid service available and that any injuries would be treated, so they could fight against the police with confidence," Lee said.

Defendant Wong Pik-yung was acquitted because she wasn't wearing or carrying anything that could be construed as evidence of involvement in the protests.

Even if the defendants hadn't committed any radical acts, their presence alone would have encouraged and facilitated the riot, while most were arrested near a makeshift roadblock, Lee said.

The 11 defendants were immediately detained on remand, bursting into tears and hugging each other when the verdict was announced. Sentencing will take place on March 4.

Foreign finance moves out

The verdicts came as foreign media reported an ongoing exodus of foreign financial institutions and staff from Hong Kong in the wake of ongoing restrictions aimed at subduing transmission of COVID-19 in the community, the Financial Times reported.

The paper cited Bank of America sources as saying that the bank could move some employees to Singapore, and is currently reviewing its Hong Kong operations.

Hong Kong currently imposes a 21-day quarantine on all arrivals from high-risk countries, while temporary bans have been imposed on flights and transit passengers arriving from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia from Jan. 8.

Law Ka-chung, visiting professor in finance and economics at Hong Kong's City University said the tough quarantine rules have affected the day-to-day running of foreign banks.

"Middle and senior managers at foreign banks all need to enter and exit [Hong Kong], so the shutdowns will have had an impact on foreign banks," Law told RFA. "The current measures have severely restricted the flow of people."

"They're not saying it's a border closure, but it effectively is a closed border ... I think it's unreasonable," he said.

An unrealistic goal

Political scientist Ian Chong said Beijing's "zero-COVID" policy is an unrealistic goal for Hong Kong, warning in local media reports that ongoing travel restrictions will harm foreign direct investment in the city.

"If bankers working in Singapore want to go overseas to meet with clients or do business, they can still do that," Chong said. "There aren't as many restrictions as in Hong Kong."

"People can also get into Singapore to do business in the financial sector."

Law agreed. "The [ruling Chinese] Communist Party wants zero-COVID, and Hong Kong officials are very party-minded, and they have to follow all of these policies locally."

"But the whole idea of zero-COVID is a deception, because it's not actually achievable," he said. "But the leaders are insisting on it."

Chong said the CCP's imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong, ushering in a widening crackdown on dissent and political opposition, had also made Singapore look relatively stable.

"Freedom of information is also important for any industry, particularly the financial sector, and without that free flow of information, Hong Kong isn't as good as Singapore right now; there may be controls on information in Singapore, but they're not as strict as in Hong Kong," he said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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