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Hong Kong jails 12 people for storming the legislature during 2019 protests

Protesters deface the Hong Kong logo at the Legislative Council to protest against the extradition bill in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019.
Vincent Yu
Protesters deface the Hong Kong logo at the Legislative Council to protest against the extradition bill in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019.

HONG KONG — A Hong Kong court sentenced 12 people Saturday to prison over the storming of the city's legislative council building at the height of the anti-government protests in 2019.

Hundreds of protesters swarmed into the legislature the night of July 1, 2019 — the 22nd anniversary of the former British colony's return to China — defacing pictures and smashing furniture. Some spray-painted slogans in the chamber and painted over the territory's emblem on a wall before vacating the site as riot police cleared surrounding streets with tear gas before moving inside.

The 12 defendants, including former student leader Althea Suen, actor Gregory Wong, and activists Ventus Lau and Owen Chow, were previously convicted for rioting. Some of them were also found guilty of other related charges.

Judge Li Chi-ho handed down jail terms ranging between 4 1/2 years and 6 years and 10 months, depending on the degree of their involvement and mitigating factors.

Li said the legislature holds a unique constitutional status and the nature of the event was serious, with a far-reaching impact.

The case also involved two other defendants who were reporters. They were previously acquitted of the rioting charge but were convicted for unlawful entry into the legislature. One was fined 1,500 Hong Kong dollars ($192) and the other 1,000 Hong Kong dollars ($128), Li said.

After the sentences were handed down, some supporters of the defendants cried in the courtroom and many others waved at the accused.

On Monday, Lau said in a hearing that he entered the legislature in hopes of minimizing the number of injuries. Even if he could choose a hundred times, he said he would still go in because he'd prefer to go to jail rather than witness someone getting hurt.

"Since I am sympathetic to the protesters, I am willing to go to jail with them," he said.

In the same hearing, Chow said when residents suddenly turned radical, it was actually their cry of desperation when all paths to their goal were blocked.

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

Hong Kong government said the enactment of the law helped bring back stability to the city after the massive 2019 protests. But many of the city's leading activists have been arrested under the law, while others fled abroad.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]