HONG KONG • A Hong Kong district court yesterday found a couple not guilty of rioting during last year’s pro-democracy protests, in a ruling that could see hundreds of others avoid jail time.
More than 9,000 people were arrested during months of huge and sometimes violent protests in the financial hub, initially sparked by a now-abandoned plan to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.
Mr Henry Tong and Ms Elaine To were charged with rioting and faced up to seven years in prison after they were detained by police last July.
But the court found there was no evidence to prove the pair were participating in that day’s protest.
Presiding Judge Anthony Kwok said it was unreasonable to assume the duo had joined the demonstration just because they were wearing dark outfits similar to those sported by the protesters.
“As for black clothing, that’s the day-to-day outfit of many residents,” the judge added.
Supporters applauded and the couple burst into tears when the verdict was read. “We won’t celebrate because there are many people yet to have a fair verdict. We hope to celebrate with everyone else when all of us have got a fair ruling,” Mr Tong told media outside the court.
Mr Tong and Ms To were released on bail in August and went ahead with their planned wedding while awaiting their court appearance.
Their case sets a precedent that could make it harder for the prosecution to secure convictions against some of the 600 or so others charged with rioting during last year’s pro-democracy rallies.
The demonstrations raged for more than seven months and saw routine clashes between police and protesters concerned about the erosion of the city’s unique freedoms by mainland Chinese rule.
Beijing responded last month by imposing a sweeping national security law that tightens restrictions on dissent and subversion and imposes harsher penalties, including life imprisonment for the most serious offences.