Three Hong Kong police officers who were jailed for beating a protester during mass pro-democracy Umbrella Movement rallies in 2014 were released on bail Wednesday in an emotionally charged case.
The trio were among seven cops convicted and jailed for two years in February for assault causing actual bodily harm to activist Ken Tsang, an attack filmed by a local TV network in footage that shocked local residents and was beamed around the world.
It showed a group of men hauling a handcuffed Tsang into a dark corner in a public park near the government headquarters, where he was beaten by one man who stood over him inflicting blows while others repeatedly kicked him.
They were bailed a day before the highly anticipated visit by Chinese president Xi Jinping to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China.
In the February sentencing, judge David Dufton described the attack as “a vicious assault”.
But the officers’ imprisonment triggered a backlash from some in the force, with supporters saying they had been under too much pressure during the protests, which brought parts of the city to a standstill for more than two months.
More than 30,000 officers and their relatives gathered to protest after the sentencing which they said was unfair.
On Wednesday judge Wally Yeung said the punishment handed to three of the seven men may have been “excessive”, the South China Morning Post reported.
They were released on bail pending an appeal.
Yeung said the officers had to work long hours with no rest in the face of violent protesters and said Tsang, a social worker, showed offensive behaviour, the Post reported.
The date of the appeal hearing was not set.
Tsang was himself found guilty last year of assaulting and resisting officers on the same night, when he splashed an unspecified liquid on police.
He has served his five-week sentence and was released in April.
The 2014 rallies were largely peaceful but saw some late-night clashes between police and demonstrators, particularly in the main protest zones in the business district of Admiralty and the busy commercial area of Mong Kok.