A Hong Kong court on Friday ordered prosecutors to bear the legal expenses incurred by a Filipino expatriate who walked past an unauthorised protest on his way home but was nonetheless charged with taking part in it.
Kowloon City Court ruled in favour of dancer Jethro Santiago Pioquinto, 36, who cleared his name after the Department of Justice could not prove he had taken part in an unlawful assembly in Mong Kok on August 3.
Pioquinto, who was arrested 600 metres from his home at the junction of Nathan Road and Fife Street, was among five defendants who had protest-related charges dropped because of insufficient evidence.
He was the third to successfully apply for costs of the legal proceedings, after the court ruled he had been apprehended by police even though he had not acted suspiciously.
The court heard that on the night in question, more than 100 protesters had gathered on Nathan Road and confronted riot police who formed a cordon at the junction of Argyle Street - one block south of where Pioquinto was. He was arrested after officers conducted a sweep and marched north along Nathan Road.
At Friday's hearing, acting Principal Magistrate Ada Yim Shun-yee made the quick decision to allow Pioquinto's application without hearing from the prosecution, after she was told police had arrested the defendant despite knowing he lived nearby and carried nothing suspicious.
"The address of the defendant was already known to police, and the defendant had already provided an innocent excuse under caution," Yim said.
"Nothing suspicious was found on him, and he was arrested relatively far from the gathering point of the unlawful assembly."
Pioquinto's lawyer Fiona Nam Hoi-yan said her client had spent more than HK$30,000 (US$3,846) on the four court hearings connected to the case.
Photographer Lee Wing-ho, 22, a co-defendant of Pioquinto, also had his charge withdrawn but he did not apply for costs.
Nothing suspicious was found on the defendant, and he was arrested relatively far from the gathering point of the unlawful assemblyAda Yim, principal magistrate
In a separate case, however, Yim turned down a similar application from bank clerk Leung Hei-wing, 24, whose charge of participating in an unlawful assembly at the junction of Nathan Road and Argyle Street on the same day as the pair was also dropped earlier.
Yim ruled that Leung had drawn suspicion upon herself by appearing in the centre of Nathan Road carrying three respirators and a mask.
Leung's lawyer Andrew Lau argued that the reason she sat in the middle of Mong Kok's main carriageway remained in doubt, as it was a few steps from an MTR station exit and she might just have walked past the scene.
But Yim dismissed the claim, saying it was impossible to enter the area without pushing through a big crowd, which was dispersing towards both sides of the road after police started their sweep.
"Even if she did enter the area successfully, why would she have to do that? That wasn't a tourist spot, or a place to shop or her way home," she said.
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