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Actor among 12 sentenced to jail for storming Hong Kong legislature in 2019

Judge says nature of the event was ‘serious’, with far-reaching impact

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Saturday 16 March 2024 10:44 GMT
Related: Hong Kong protests

A Hong Kong court has sentenced 12 people to prison for storming the city legislature during pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Hundreds of protesters broke into the city's legislature on 1 July 2019, which marked the 22nd anniversary of the former British colony's return to China, defacing the property as public anger mounted over an extradition bill.

The protesters smashed windows, spray-painted slogans in the chamber and painted over the territory's emblem on a wall before vacating the site.

Actor Gregory Wong, former student leader Althea Suen and activists Ventus Lau and Owen Chow, were among the 12 defenders, who were previously convicted for rioting.

District court judge Li Chi-ho on Saturday handed down jail terms ranging between 54 months and 82 months, depending on the degree of their involvement.

The judge sentenced Wong, 45, to six years and two months after he pleaded not guilty.

Lau and Chow, who had pleaded guilty, received terms of 54 months and 20 days, and 61 months and 15 days, respectively. Althea Suen, former president of the University of Hong Kong's student union, was sentenced to four years and nine months after pleading guilty.

Pro-democracy activist Eddie Chu, (L), Joshua Wong Chi-fung, (2R), Owen Chow, (2R), and Lester Shum, (R), distribute leaflets in Hong Kong (EPA)

Judge Li said the legislature holds a unique constitutional status and the nature of the event was "serious", with a far-reaching impact. He said the acts of the protesters were "targeting the city's government," 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.

Two reporters, Wong Ka-ho and Ma Kai-chung were previously acquitted of the rioting charge but were convicted for unlawful entry into the legislature. They were fined HK$1,500 (£150) and HK$1,000 (£100) respectively.

Following the sentencing, supporters of the defendants cried in the courtroom and many others waved at the accused. Some chanted, "Hang in there!"

Chow stated that the government’s refusal to withdraw the extradition bill, despite the participation of one million people in street protests, 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.

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’,” he said before he was sentenced.

Lau said he had rushed to the scene because he feared a bloody crackdown by the police. "I don't want the public to think all the people in this movement only care about their own safety," he said.

Both Lau and Chow were among the 47 pro-democracy activists charged with subversion in 2021 over an unofficial primary election under the draconian national security law.

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.

Additional reporting with agencies

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