Retired superintendent Frankly Chu has been sentenced to three months behind bars for hitting a pedestrian with a baton during the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests. He was granted bail pending appeal.
Chu, 57, was found guilty last month of one count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm during the protests. He had spent 2.5 weeks at a detention centre before Wednesday’s sentence hearing.
Principal Magistrate Bina Chainrai sentenced him to four months in prison, but reduced it by one month. She took into account the “great stress” Chu was under during the protests, the fact that Chu is retired and thus unlikely to recommit the offence, the harassment he faced on social media, and the amount of time which has lapsed.
The magistrate rejected a recommendation of a community service order, on the basis that a jail term was necessary to deter future police misconduct and restore public confidence in the police force.
Citing previous court decisions, she said the breach of trust by police officers is an aggravating factor and that officers who misbehave must be made an example of.
He was granted HK$50,000 bail pending appeal and ordered to report to Central Police Station every week.
Last Friday, Chu appeared in court for a mitigation hearing. His lawyer Peter Pannu asked for a non-jail option, saying that Chu should be credited with his “selfless commitment to public service.”
Pannu submitted 40 letters of appreciation from Chu’s police colleagues, lawmakers and churchgoers. The letters said Chu is highly regarded as a respectable officer and “good friend.”
The lawyer argued that it should be taken into account that Chu’s assault took place less than a minute prior to “a mob charging” at police officers near to where Chu was filmed hitting the victim Osman Cheng with a baton. He said Cheng might have been part of the “mob.”
But Magistrate Chainrai dismissed the argument, saying that whether Cheng was a protester or not was irrelevant to the charge. She added that the court had found earlier that Cheng was only leaving the scene at the time and did not engage in violent acts.
A number of videos taken in Mong Kok on November 26, 2014 appear to show Chu hitting pedestrians with a baton without prior warning as part of the police operation to disperse crowds that had gathered in the area.
Chu was charged last March, more than 850 days after the incident took place. Last year, Cheng’s lawyers threatened a private prosecution if the justice secretary continued to take no action on the case.
While the pro-democracy camp had been demanding Chu be held accountable for his actions, a number of pro-establishment and police figures have spoken up for Chu.
On Tuesday, former security chief Lai Tung-kwok and pro-Beijing politician Bill Tang made a video to show their support for the ex-officer. Pro-Beijing lawmakers such as Regina Ip and Holden Chow have expressed sympathy towards Chu.
The Junior Police Officers’ Association said earlier that Chu’s conviction “confused” frontline officers over when they could use force legally, while the Superintendents’ Association described Chu as being “passionate about his work and well-liked by his colleagues.”
A small group of police supporters gathered outside the court on Wednesday. They said officers were “innocent” and that they were only trying to combat violence committed by “rioters.” They accused the judiciary of being unfair and hurled insults at the magistrate.
In another high-profile police assault case during the Occupy protests, seven officers were jailed for two years for hitting and kicking activist Ken Tsang during an operation near the Admiralty campsite. They have since appealed against their convictions and sentences.