HONG KONG: A Hong Kong technician was jailed for four years and nine months today for rioting and arson during anti-China protests last year, in the harshest punishment yet over the unrest.
The case is the latest in a slew of legal action against demonstrators and comes soon after new pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam was selected as leader of the semi-autonomous city. Yeung Ka-lun, 32, was pictured in news footage torching a taxi during the February 2016 unrest, which tapped into fears that Beijing is tightening its grip on Hong Kong.
During clashes dubbed the "fishball revolution", police fired warning shots in the air, while demonstrators hurled bricks torn up from pavements, charged police lines with homemade shields and set rubbish on fire.
"The court must send a message that these acts cannot be tolerated," said a judge at the Hong Kong court, in justifying the sentencing. He said protesters shared a goal to disrupt social order and had threatened public safety.
While Yeung had no previous criminal records, he was "extremely reckless" in setting fire to the car in a crowded urban area, the judge added. Outside the court, the acting superintendent of the organised crime bureau said, "police believe that the sentence has sufficiently reflected the seriousness and gravity of the offences."
A small number of supporters sat in on the hearing and expressed outrage over the sentence. Last month three activists were jailed for three years on "riot" charges for their role in the same protests. Like Yeung, they were not well-known campaigners.
The riot's alleged ringleaders from "localist" campaign group Hong Kong Indigenous, which advocates more autonomy for the city, face trial next year.
Nine pro-democracy activists including students, professors and lawmakers were separately accused of causing a public nuisance or inciting others to do so during the 2014 mass Umbrella Movement rallies, in a case they have criticised as political persecution.
The government's department of justice brought those charges just days after Lam was selected by a committee skewed towards the mainland camp.