The District Court sentenced seven police officers to jail for two years on Friday for assault against activist Ken Tsang during the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests.
All of the defendants were sentenced to two years and six months’ imprisonment, but the term was reduced by six months taking into account their backgrounds, such as their “long distinguished career.”
The defendants were: police chief inspector Wong Cho-shing, 48, senior inspector Lau Cheuk-ngai, 29, detective sergeant Pak Wing-bun, 42, and constables Lau Hing-pui, 38, Chan Siu-tan, 31, Kwan Ka-ho, 32, and Wong Wai-ho, 36.
Handing down the sentence, Judge David Dufton said: “The defendants damaged Hong Kong’s reputation in the international community… There was no justification to take Tsang to the substation for the assault.”
He said the court needed to “make an example” out of it to ensure that no officers would attempt to commit the offence in the future.
Judge Dufton acknowledged the “unique circumstances” and stress police officers faced during the Occupy protests, but he rejected the defendants’ plea for suspended sentence on the basis that the case was “very serious.”
The defendants all wore the same outfit – blue blazers and white shirts with black and red ties. Tsang was not present at the sentencing.
After sentencing, a family member of one of the defendants was heard crying in the prosecution witness room.
Pro-police and pro-democracy supporters shouted at each other inside the courtroom. They were told to stop by security.
A spokesperson for the pro-establishment group Politihk Social Strategic said outside the court that he thought the sentence was too long. “It is unfair; the organisers behind the Occupy protests were not prosecuted.”
The seven officers were originally charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent, but were acquitted on Tuesday on the basis that the injuries sustained by Tsang did not amount to grievous bodily harm.
Instead, Judge Dufton convicted them of the lesser charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
Constable Chan was found guilty of an additional charge of common assault for slapping Tsang twice on his face inside the Central Police Station. For this he was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment, which will be served concurrently with his two-year term.
Upon being convicted on Tuesday, the defendants were remanded in custody at the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre, a maximum security institution.
The high-profile attack on the pro-democracy activist took place near the government headquarters in Tamar Park, Admiralty on October 15, 2014. The trial began last June, almost two years after the incident occurred.
During the trial, the defendants chose not to give evidence or call any witnesses on their behalf.
Counsel for some of the officers argued that the person shown being assaulted in news footage was not Tsang but another protester who was arrested on the same night. They also contended that the defendants were not the officers shown in news footage.
But Judge Dufton ruled that Tsang was the person seen assaulted in video footage and that the officers were the ones filmed carrying Tsang to a corner in Tamar Park, where they were seen beating and kicking the activist.
The judge also noted that senior officers Wong Cho-shing and Lau Cheuk-ngai did not take part in the assault but watched what happened.
“Every police officer has a duty to intervene to prevent the commission of a crime, even by fellow police officers,” Judge Dufton said in the judgement.
Police Commissioner Lo Wai-chung said in a letter to the force on Wednesday that he and other colleagues were “all very sad” about the court decision. He said the personnel department would “do their best to provide all possible assistance” to the families of the seven officers.
Lo did not apologise to either Tsang or the public for the police misconduct.
Meanwhile, a wave of online attacks against Judge Dufton took place following Tuesday’s verdict. A spokesperson for the judiciary said Thursday that it regarded the attacks as a matter of serious concern and had referred them to the Department of Justice for follow-up action.