They were arrested on one of the most violent days in Hong Kong last year, when protesters threw firebombs at the main government offices and set a barrier aflame outside police headquarters. But last month, a judge quickly dismantled the prosecutors’ case against them.

In his ruling, District Judge Sham Siu-man said that police officers had given unreliable testimony and that they appeared to have gone against their training by using batons to subdue one protester. He found all eight defendants not guilty, saying one had merely been asking officers to do their job when she used a loudspeaker to urge restraint.

The next day, a Chinese government-owned newspaper in Hong Kong splashed a photo of the judge, wearing his court wig and robes, on its front page beside images of protesters and burning barriers. "Strange opinion issued by the court,” the headline read. The judge, it continued, says the protesters "were actually the ones wronged.”