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Jail terms of up to 7 years for 12 who stormed Hong Kong legislature

A Hong Kong court sentenced 12 people to jail terms from more than four years to nearly seven years in a high-profile rioting case linked to the storming of the city legislature during a pro-democracy protest in 2019.

The incident was a pivotal moment in the months-long protests that embroiled the China-ruled city in the boldest populist uprising against Chinese Communist Party rule since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing.

Protesters broke into Hong Kong’s legislative council building on July 1, 2019, smashing windows and streaming inside as public anger mounted over an extradition bill that would have allowed authorities to send people to mainland China for trial.

Those sentenced by District Court Judge Li Chi-ho included actor Gregory Wong, 45, who was jailed for six years and two months after pleading not guilty.

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Political activists Ventus Lau and Owen Chow, who had pleaded guilty, received terms of 54 months and 20 days, and 61 months and 15 days, respectively.

Li described the incident as a “serious” blow to the city’s rule of law.

“The large number of protesters, the intensity, the unique constitutional status of the Legislative Council, and the intention to weaken the significance of the (Hong Kong) government, are insulting,” he said.

The judge described in detail how protesters had rammed their way into the building with metal barricades, pelted the area with eggs, sprayed political slogans on the walls and inked over a government emblem.

File photo: Protesters pass building material into the lobby of the Legislative Council building on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The former president of the University of Hong Kong’s student union, Althea Suen, 27, who had pleaded guilty, was sentenced to four years and nine months.

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Relatives and supporters cried and shouted “Take care!” and “Hang in there!” as the defendants were led away from the glass dock.

Chow said the government’s refusal to withdraw the extradition bill after one million people marched against it was the immediate cause of the incident.

“No matter what punishment the court imposes on me, I’ll continue to move forward and convert my fear into a force for change, just like the day I walked into the chamber,” Chow told the court before the sentences were handed down.

He said their actions stemmed from a need to stand up for basic human rights that were under threat from authorities.

“Martin Luther King, leader of the human rights movement who has always advocated peaceful and rational demonstrations, once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard,” Chow told the court.

Lau said he had rushed to the scene given his fears of a bloody crackdown by the police. Lau later left Hong Kong and returned despite the risk of prosecution.

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“I don’t want the public to think all the people in this movement only care about their own safety,” he said.

In a mitigation letter submitted to the court last month, actor Wong said his arrest and conviction had essentially derailed his career as an actor since the age of 12.

“I will still help people in need with a sincere heart,” Wong wrote.

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Student reporter Wong Ka-ho and online media reporter Ma Kai-Chung, who were acquitted of rioting but found guilty of “entering or staying in the precincts of the chamber”, received fines of HK$1,500 ($190) and HK$1,000 respectively.

Rioting holds a maximum seven-year sentence in Hong Kong’s district court.

More than 10,200 people were arrested in relation to the protests in 2019, of whom 2,937 have so far been charged with offences including rioting, unlawful assembly and criminal damage, according to police figures.

Of these, over 870 people have been charged with rioting, according to the Witness, an online news portal specialising in legal news.

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By JESSIE PANG and EDWARD CHO

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