HONG KONG (Reuters) – A former rising star in Hong Kong’s radical youth opposition was sentenced to 6 years in jail on Monday for rioting and assaulting police, one of the city’s harshest sentences against a democracy activist in recent years.
Edward Leung, 27, one of the leaders of a movement advocating Hong Kong’s independence from China, had earlier been found guilty of rioting in a 2016 overnight protest that turned violent. He had pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer.
About 130 people, mostly police, were injured when masked protesters tossed bricks and set trash cans alight to vent their anger against what they saw as mainland Chinese encroachment on the city’s autonomy and freedoms.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Leung would appeal against the sentence.
Leung appeared calm upon hearing High Court Judge Anthea Pang announce the sentence, while murmurs of disbelief rippled through a crowd of about 150 activists and supporters watching a live broadcast outside the courtroom.
Pang condemned the “severe violence” of the riot, which she said had caused danger to those at the scene, and which warranted the imposition of a strict deterrent sentence.
“The court absolutely does not allow livelihood or political disputes to be expressed through acts of violence,” she said.
Two other defendants in the case, Lo Kin-man and Wong Ka-kui, were jailed 7 and 3.5 years respectively for rioting.
Leung has supported Hong Kong’s outright secession from China given Beijing’s perceived erosion of the “one country two systems” principle granting the city a high degree of autonomy since it was handed from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
The controversial politician, then a student of philosophy at the University of Hong Kong, came to public prominence after the violent protests, and a run for public office during a by-election for a legislative council seat that year. He was barred from running for another election later that year.
China has repeatedly slammed the independence movement, fearful of the idea catching on in the mainland. President Xi Jinping warned last year that any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty would be an act that crosses a “red line”.
Although the court case does not deal directly on the issue of independence, the sentencing is likely to be interpreted as a broader warning against the city’s young radical activists.
Leung’s sentence came one week after two other pro independence activists and former lawmakers were sentenced to one month in jail for assembling illegally in the legislature while still in public office.
Reporting by Venus Wu; Additional reporting by Holly Chik; Editing by James Pomfret, Paul Tait and Michael Perry