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Hong Kong jails 12 over 2019 legislature storming

By AFP

March 16, 2024 01:01 PM


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Twelve Hong Kongers were jailed Saturday for up to seven years over the storming of the city's legislature in 2019 at the height of pro-democracy protests that challenged the Beijing-backed government.

It was the most violent episode in the initial stage of the huge protests that upended the financial hub that year, with Beijing later imposing a sweeping national security law to snuff out dissent.

Hundreds of protesters broke into the legislature on the night of July 1, 2019, smashing windows and spraying graffiti on the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from Britain to China.

A total of 14 people were later charged with rioting -- which carries a punishment of up to 10 years in jail -- and other offences such as criminal damage and entering the legislative chamber.

Twelve of them were sentenced to between six-and-a-half and seven years in prison after being earlier convicted of rioting.

The actual jail terms will be slightly shorter -- ranging from 54 to 82 months -- following reductions for various reasons, including guilty pleas.

Two former reporters charged alongside the 12 were not convicted of rioting, but were fined up to HK$1,500 ($190) for "entering or staying in the Legislative Council chamber".

Deputy judge Li Chi-ho of the District Court on Saturday stressed the symbolic significance of the legislature storming and its "long-lasting effects" on society.

"Aside from the actual damage to the building, it had a symbolic meaning... (which was) challenging the Hong Kong government and even weakening its governance," Li said.

Protesters committed "insulting and provocative" acts such as tearing up copies of Hong Kong's constitutional text, the Basic Law, and displaying colonial-era flags, Li added.

The defendants waved vigorously to the courtroom public gallery as they were led away after sentencing, with many friends and supporters left in tears.

Days earlier, some defendants who had pleaded guilty made defiant courtroom speeches.

"The actual crime committed by the protesters... is the pursuit of democracy, freedom of thought and free will," said Althea Suen, a children's rights activist and a former student leader.

Activist Owen Chow said a "riot is the language of the unheard", citing civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

"How a political regime handles dissent and whether it can rectify its mistakes will decide whether a society can maintain sustainable growth," said Chow, who is charged with conspiracy to commit subversion in a separate ongoing national security trial.

The 2019 protests were triggered by a later-abandoned government bill that would have allowed extraditing criminal suspects to mainland China, but they snowballed into a city-wide movement with more fundamental demands including universal suffrage in voting for city leader and lawmakers.

More than 10,000 people were arrested as authorities sought to extinguish the protests.


AFP


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