Two Hong Kong police officers walked free on Friday after the Court of Appeal overturned their convictions on the assault of activist Ken Tsang in 2014.
Of the seven officers involved in the case, appeal judges on Friday found two of them not guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Their two-year jail sentences were quashed with immediate effect.
The five other officers were sent back to jail but had their sentences reduced, with their new prison terms ranging from 15 to 18 months.
On October 15, 2014, at the height of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, social worker Ken Tsang was beaten up by seven police officers in a dimly-lit corner outside government headquarters. The officers said Tsang had provoked them by pouring water on colleagues clearing a nearby protest site.
D2 Lau Cheuk-ngai, senior inspector – jail term reduced from 24 months to 18 months
D3 Pak Wing-bun, detective sergeant – jail term reduced from 24 months to 15 months
D4 Lau Hing-pui, constable – conviction overturned
D5 Chan Siu-tan, constable – jail term reduced from 24 months to 16 months
D6 Kwan Ka-ho, constable – jail term reduced from 24 months to 15 months
D7 Wong Wai-ho, constable – conviction overturned
The officers were convicted and jailed in February 2017, though all of them lodged appeals and were released on bail having served only six months or less of their respective sentences.
The Court of Appeal finished its hearing in November last year, but the three justices – Andrew Macrae, Ian McWalters and Jeremy Poon – only handed down their decision on Friday.
The judges had stern words for the officers who assaulted Tsang: “Whatever the pressure and stress the appellants were under, and however great the insults and provocation they perceived from participants in the events that night, there was no excuse for what they did to Tsang.”
For the five officers who failed to appeal their convictions, judges affirmed that immediate jail sentences were needed.
“An offence such as this, in which the public had witnessed police officers, who were entrusted to uphold the law, break that law in such a deliberate and shocking way, must be visited with an immediate sentence of imprisonment,” the judgment read.
However, the judges reduced the jail terms because the original sentences were “manifestly excessive.” Wong Cho-sing and Lau Cheuk-ngai received lengthier sentences because they were senior officers who “lent their approval and authority” to the others to continue beating Tsang.
“Not only did the assault on Tsang dishonour the reputation of the Hong Kong police force in the eyes of the general public, it will have damaged Hong Kong’s reputation in the international community,” the judges wrote. “These actions will have shaken everyone’s faith not only in the Hong Kong police force but in the rule of law itself.”
Ken Tsang told RTHK that he found the reduction of the police officers’ sentences to be “shocking and unacceptable.”
“I think this judgment will spark more discontent among the public,” he said. “Of course, I hope the Department of Justice will take this case to the Court of Final Appeal.”
Two officers set free
In their 78-page judgment, the three appeal judges also overturned the conviction of the two officers – Lau Hing-pui and Wong Wai-ho – saying that no witnesses were able to identify them from videos or photographs to prove they were present during Tsang’s assault.
“Ultimately, their convictions, unlike those of the other appellants, derive from an identification which the judge himself made but which none of the witnesses at trial were prepared to make,” the judgment read.
Lau belonged to a team different from that of the other six. As for Wong, although he was part of the team, the evidence was “too tenuous” to prove he participated, the judges said.
The appeal judges added that it took them “much longer than [they] would have liked” to come to a conclusion because they needed to conduct their own “comprehensive analysis of the raw material and evidence.”
The two freed officers did not answer reporters’ questions as they left the High Court of Friday.
Around 30 police supporters arrived at the High Court on Friday morning, and some were in tears after hearing the ruling. One shouted “the rule of law is dead” as she left the courtroom, while another said, “Why do they have to be jailed but rioters don’t?”
The seven defendants were police chief inspector Wong Cho-shing, 51, senior inspector Lau Cheuk-ngai, 32, detective sergeant Pak Wing-bun, 45, and constables Lau Hing-pui, 41, Chan Siu-tan, 34, Kwan Ka-ho, 35, and Wong Wai-ho, 40.
Chan was convicted of an additional charge of common assault for slapping Tsang twice on his face inside the Central Police Station.
In his first instance ruling, Judge David Dufton said the court needed to “make an example” to ensure that no police officers would attempt to commit such an offence in the future.