A secondary school student was sentenced for up to three years in a juvenile correction facility in Hong Kong on Friday for “illegal assembly” in connection with protests in and around Prince Edward MTR station on Aug. 31, 2019 on the night of a violent raid on trains and platforms by riot police.
The boy, who was just 13 at the time of the protests, had pleaded guilty to “possession of offensive weapons” after Molotov cocktails were found in his backpack.
He was brought to the District Court for sentencing on Friday by District Court Judge Frankie Yiu. He appeared calm in court, wearing a white shirt, and glancing at his family in the public gallery from time to time.
In mitigation, defense attorney Edward Chan said the boy had acted on impulse, and had received proper parental care. His school principal was willing to facilitate his return to study.
He called for a shorter-than-usual sentence in a youth rehabilitation center, to allow him to resume his studies as soon as possible.
Judge Yiu replied by commenting that the boy had taken an active part in the protest on the night in question, “even on the front line.”
He said youth wasn’t enough to plead mitigation, although noted the defense’s plea that the boy was kind, lively and cheerful, but immature, and had shown remorse to his family for his actions.
“Adults could receive sentences of three or four years, or longer,” Yiu said. “There is no doubt in my mind that the defendant took the initiative; he put styrofoam boxes and bricks on the road … which did cause a serious obstruction.”
“He also had in his backpack two home-made petrol bombs and two lighters.”
‘Hang in there’
Yiu said he hoped the boy would study hard while in the facility, and “stop committing crimes” after he got out.
He handed down a minimum sentence of six months and a maximum sentence of three years in a juvenile training center.
The boy’s supporters shouted “Hang in there!” after the sentence was passed, while the boy looked across at his family, appearing calm as he was escorted away.
His father told RFA that his son had always been very well-behaved.
“This was expected … we will continue to support him,” the father said.
Earlier, the defense had revealed that the boy was suffering from Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and requested a report from social services. But this was denied by the judge on the grounds of the seriousness of the offense.
The boy had earlier pleaded guilty to taken part in an “illegal assembly” at the junction of Nathan Road and Nelson Street in Mong Kok on Aug. 31, 2019, and to the possession of two petrol bombs.
Hong Kong’s Correctional Services Department (CSD) assigns young offenders to correctional institutions according to age, gender and security ratings based on the severity of their offense.
Youngest convict from 2019
Young offenders have previously reported physical abuse at the hands of guards while in the juvenile correction system.
Former University of Hong Kong student union president Althea Suen said the boy was the eighth and youngest minor to be sentenced to a juvenile training center in connection with the 2019 protest movement.
“The most important thing we can do as adults to support children and young people is to support their growth and development, as well as respecting their rights,” Suen told RFA.
“Sadly, many young people from different social backgrounds and categories aren’t getting enough protection.”
Hong Kong courts have convicted 115 minors so far in connection with the 2019 protests, with 262 cases still going through the courts.
Seven were sent to prison, with sentences ranging from three weeks to three years and 10 months, while four were sentenced to training camp, 17 to a labor facility and 35 to a rehabilitation center. Thirty-one were handed probation orders, while 14 are in the care of social services.
The Department of Justice has applied to the trial magistrate or the Court of Appeal for a review of the sentence in at least 12 cases involving children. All appeals that have been processed so far have resulted in an increase in the sentence.
Pauline Sung-Chan of Project Change, an independent group providing psychological counseling and legal support to young people arrested in connection with the 2019 protest movement, said the courts are handing down harsher jail terms to minors than before the anti-extradition movement first escalated into a city-wide mass protest movement in June 2019.
“This means a lot of extra work,” Sung-Chan told RFA. “For example, if you want to be released on bail, you now have to prove why you deserve it.”
“We give very detailed reports in a lot of cases, so that the judge can gain a better understanding of the child,” she said. “I think the current climate in the legal system is harsher now.”
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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