Seven policemen were jailed two years on Friday for kicking and punching activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu after his arrest for assaulting officers during an Occupy protest more than two years ago.
The men were found guilty on Tuesday of one joint count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, with one detective constable convicted of an additional charge of common assault for twice slapping Tsang at a police station.
The first charge carries a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment, while the latter is punishable by one year.
The seven are Chief Inspector Wong Cho-shing, 50; Senior Inspector Lau Cheuk-ngai, 31; Detective Sergeant Pak Wing-bun, 43; Constable Lau Hing-pui, 39; and detective constables Wong Wai-ho, 38; Chan Siu-tan, 33; and Kwan Ka-ho, 33.
They walked into the dock in matching suits and ties at 9.36am.
Chief Inspector Wong smiled at his counsel Lawrence Lok Ying-kam upon sitting down, while Senior Inspector Lau and Pak were seen looking intently at the public gallery.
Lok said more than 1,000 letters from various sectors of society poured in over the past two days and asked the court to take time to read them.
“They all feel very strongly for these defendants,” he said.
But judge David Dufton proceeded immediately to deliver his sentence, which was translated into Cantonese for the defendants.
“There can be no doubt that police officers including the defendants were working under great pressure during the Occupy Movement,” the judge said.
He noted however that the defendants had “not only brought dishonour to the police force,” but also “brought damage to Hong Kong in the international community ... the assault having been viewed around the world.”
“The assault is a vicious assault,” Dufton continued. “Although Tsang broke the law ... and the police officers worked under immense stress ... there was no justification to assault Tsang.
“The assault is too serious to be of the position of a suspended sentence.”
Angry crowds supporting the seven policemen had been making abusive remarks about the judge since the conviction, and continued to do so despite the justice department’s pledge to follow up on such behaviour.
Dozens of police supporters began to gather outside the District Court in Wan Chai at about 8am – an hour and a half before the sentencing.
Banners depicting the conviction as an injustice were hung up near the court entrance. A few smaller banners featured Dufton’s portrait over which a dog’s face had been placed, describing him as a “slave” from the West.
Police on high alert asked a separate group of people who were against the convicted policemen to stay away from their supporters.
Officers urged the two groups to stay calm and lower their voices when shouting slogans.
Police supporters holding the banners did not respond when they were asked whether they had learned of the news about Department of Justice’s follow-up concerning detractors of the court.
Protesters against the policemen erupted into cheers outside the court as soon as they learned of the sentence.
“Appeal! Appeal!” police supporters chanted in response to the news.
An angry man charged at the police detractors and grabbed a banner before officers separated him from the group.
The case centred on one of the most controversial scenes of the 79-day pro-democracy civil disobedience movement in 2014 when seven plainclothes officers were caught on film assaulting Tsang outside an electricity substation for four minutes in the small hours of October 15.
At the time Tsang had been pepper-sprayed and zip-tied following his arrest for pouring liquid over uniformed police carrying out a clearance operation in Admiralty.
News footage of Tsang curled up on the floor apparently protecting himself against kicks, punches and baton hits by officers circulated quickly, leading to the site becoming widely known as the “dark corner”.
Subsequent medical examination found the social worker suffered swelling and reddish bruises to his face, neck, shoulder, flank, chest and back.
Judge Dufton concluded in a 224-page judgment that Tsang was a reliable witness when he testified that he had been frogmarched to the substation and immediately assaulted in a detour from the standard procedure of being taken to a police van.
The judge was also convinced beyond doubt that news footage of the incident had accurately captured all seven defendants on camera.
But he did not accept the assault had caused Tsang grievous bodily harm and so lowered the charge from the original one of causing grievous bodily harm with intent, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Chan was further convicted of common assault for twice slapping Tsang at Central Police Station when he was said to have refused to unlock his phone.
Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung said on Wednesday he felt saddened by the officers’ convictions.
“I believe all of us were saddened,” he wrote in a letter to colleagues. “However, we must bear in mind that Hong Kong is governed by the rule of law, and our judicial system has an established appeal mechanism.”