Hong Kong police officers accused of beating a pro-democracy demonstrator arrive at court to hear their verdict. Feb. 14, 2017.
A court in Hong Kong on Tuesday found seven police officers guilty of assaulting pro-democracy politician Ken Tsang during the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.
Chief Inspector Wong Cho-shing, Senior Inspector Lau Cheuk-ngai, Detective Sergeant Pak Wing-bun, police constable Lau Hing-pui, and detective constables Wong Wai-ho, Chan Siu-tan and Kwan Ka-ho were convicted by the city's District Court of kicking, punching, and stepping on Tsang after he was arrested and handcuffed during clashes in October 2014.
While the seven were found guilty of common assault and causing actual bodily harm, they were acquitted of the more serious charge of causing grievous bodily harm.
Judge David Dufton said the officers dumped Tsang on the ground and set about kicking and stamping on him, leaving him with injuries to his face, neck, chest, and back.
Unbeknown to the officers, the assault, which took place in a dark corner on the evening of Oct. 15, was filmed by journalists covering the protests and later broadcast on the evening news.
The footage showed a man believed to be Tsang being beaten and kicked by a group of police officers during an operation to clear a main road of protesters in a violent crackdown on the movement.
The group will be sentenced this Friday, and their defense team is pushing for a suspended jail term rather than the maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment.
Initial euphoria among the officers' supporters when the more serious charge was dismissed quickly turned to silence when the guilty verdict was read out, government broadcaster RTHK reported.
Detective Constable Chan Siu-tan was also found guilty of an additional charge of common assault, for slapping Tsang twice at Central Police Station.
Dufton found that video of the assault "accurately depicted" what took place.
A dark corner
The activist was arrested by uniformed police, handcuffed with zip ties, and handed over to the officers, who then took him to a dark corner rather than to the buses waiting for arrested suspects, he said.
He said Chief Inspector Wong Cho-shing and Senior Inspector Lau Cheuk-ngai didn't join in with the beating, but instead had "encouraged and supported it."
The more serious charge was dismissed because Tsang's injuries didn't amount to "grievous bodily harm," Dufton told the court.
Dufton told the court: "If a police officer stands by and watches his colleague beat up a suspected person, his failure to intervene is evidence of encouragement to carry out the assault."
He said police officers have a duty to prevent crimes from being committed and to "keep the peace."
The defense team said that the officers had been under unusual pressure during the 79-day civil disobedience campaign for fully democratic election, and had been forced to work unusually long hours enduring verbal and physical abuse.
Tsang declined to comment ahead of Friday's hearing, saying that there are a number of factors that could influence the sentencing.
Intent to harm
Barrister Randy Shek told RFA that the officers no longer face possible life sentences, the maximum available for the more serious charges.
"For that, the prosecution would need to show that there was deliberate intent to cause serious injury," Shek said.
"But for the current charge, it is enough to show that there was intention to cause some kind of harm, and that actual bodily harm resulted."
Tsang was himself found guilty of assaulting the police officers and resisting arrest after he poured an unidentified liquid on them. He later showed journalists his own injuries.
The officers were charged only after Tsang's lawyers applied for a judicial review in the face of long delays.
All seven denied one count of causing Tsang grievous bodily harm with intent, while one of them also pleaded not guilty to an additional charge of common assault, local media reported.
"I will be putting in every effort to collate my evidence," Tsang told reporters on Thursday. "I am the main witness in this case, and I will be working with the court to provide and gather the evidence."
Public anger soared in the wake of the clashes that marked the start of the Occupy Central, or Umbrella Movement, bringing hundreds of thousands of people onto the city's streets at its height, many of them calling for fully democratic elections.
Dozens of protesters holding the iconic yellow umbrella that came to symbolize the calls for universal suffrage gathered outside the Kowloon court on Thursday, chanted slogans saying Tsang's prosecution was politically motivated.
Hong Kong was promised a "high degree of autonomy" under the terms of its 1997 return to Chinese rule, within the "one country, two systems" framework agreed between British and Chinese officials and enshrined in its miniconstitution, the Basic Law.
In June 2014, an unofficial referendum saw 400,000 people vote in favor of universal suffrage and public nominations, in spite of a central government white paper spelling out that the city's autonomy was still subject to the will of Beijing, and didn't constitute full autonomy or decentralized power.
The Occupy movement was sparked by an Aug. 31, 2014 electoral reform plan outlined by China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), that would allow all of Hong Kong's five million eligible voters to cast a ballot in the 2017 race for the next chief executive, but would have limited the slate to candidates approved by Beijing.
It was rejected by pan-democratic lawmakers and Occupy Central protesters as "fake universal suffrage."
Hong Kong lawmakers dealt a death blow to Beijing's electoral reform package on June 18, in a humiliating defeat for Hong Kong's chief executive Leung Chun-ying and for Chinese officials.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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