A 73-year-old homeless man won an appeal on Thursday over his criminal contempt of court conviction for blocking the clearance of the Mong Kok Umbrella Movement protest site in 2014.
Lou Tit-man, who said he was homeless and living near the Occupy site during the clearance, was handed the highest sentence among 15 defendants in October. He faced four months in jail, whilst others received suspended jail sentences.
He had already served 13 days behind bars before he was released on bail pending the appeal in November. The Court of Appeal on Thursday quashed his four-month sentence and substituted it with a term of imprisonment that would enable his immediate release.
Court of Appeal judges Johnson Lam, Jeremy Poon and Derek Pang ruled that the Court of First Instance judge Andrew Chan had erred in giving Lou the toughest sentence.
In October, Chan said that Lou had “deep and extensive” involvement in blocking the clearance of the Occupy site and failed to comply with a court injunction ordering people to leave the site. Lou pleaded not guilty during the hearing.
Chan said Lou was seen standing on an elevated platform at the site, holding a yellow banner demanding universal suffrage, and was seen rendering assistance to the apparent organiser of the protest as the elevated platform was removed.
Lou received four months in prison after the judge considered a similar case involving activist Alvin Cheng, who pleaded guilty and was given three months in prison last year.
Chan also handed Yung Yiu-sing, a student at the Occupy clearance site, two months in jail suspended for 18 months. He said Yung was seen holding a loudspeaker on loan from the Hong Kong Federation of Students and was spotted assisting others in making broadcasts whilst wearing a t-shirt with a protest slogan.
But the Court of Appeal judges said in the Thursday that Lou’s sentence was “anomalous.”
“It is so because, on one hand, the appellant was not an organiser, yet he was effectively sentenced as one (Cheng); on the other, his case was hardly distinguishable from the next most serious one in sentence, yet the next most serious offender was met with a much lighter penalty that is completely different in nature (Yung),” they wrote.
“In short, an unduly strenuous inference had been drawn against the appellant based on his use and dismantling of the ‘elevated platform’, plus it is hard to see how wearing a slogan-loaded T-shirt and broadcasting throughout the day with a loudhailer on loan from the Hong Kong Federation of Students, as in the case of Mr Yung, could be regarded as more superficial and less extensive than what the appellant did on 25 November 2014. On these two matters, we think the Judge had erred.”
Lou was born an orphan in the Philippines and came to Hong Kong when he was 11. He became a street-sleeper at the age of 19 and had been doing odd jobs until his 50s. He is currently receiving assistance from non-governmental organisations and the church.
Lou had a video for his friends before the appeal, telling them he would not attend the court hearing on Thursday. He has not been heard from since the video was sent out.