A court in Hong Kong has sentenced three people to years in jail on riot convictions, despite no evidence they were actually involved in rioting. In a separate case, the activist Joshua Wong and three others were also given jail terms over a Tiananmen Square massacre vigil held in breach of Covid restrictions.
The three protesters, all in their 20s, were jailed by a district court judge, En-nest Lin, on Wednesday for terms of up to four years and three months. Lin said even though there was no evidence the trio were involved in any rioting, their presence at the rally in October 2019 encouraged other protesters, RTHK reported.
He described the confrontation between police and the estimated 100 protesters as a “mini war” but said officers restrained themselves while protesters lit fires and threw petrol bombs.
According to RTHK, Lin said the harsh sentences were required as a deterrent and that the accused must face the same punishment as those who broke the law, under the “joint enterprise” principle.
The pro-democracy movement has rejected authorities’ classification of the protests that swept Hong Kong in 2019 as “riots”, which carries far higher punishments in the court system.
More than 10,000 people have been arrested over the protests. A withdrawal of the designation was one of five core demands of the movement, which has since been crushed by an overwhelming crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.
Key figures have been arrested and jailed, including Wong, who was already serving more than 17 months in jail when he was given a further 10 on Thursday for his involvement in a vigil organised last year, to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre of 4 June 1989.
The vigil was banned by authorities citing pandemic restrictions, but tens of thousands of people lit candles across the city, while a smaller group gathered at the usual site in Victoria Park. The night was peaceful barring a small skirmish with police in one neighbourhood.
Wong, 24, was sentenced to 15 months but received a reduction due to his guilty plea.
The judge, Stanley Chan, also sentenced Lester Shum, Jannelle Leung and Tiffany Yuen to between four and six months. Twenty others facing similar Tiananmen Square anniversary charges are due to appear in court on 11 June. “Freedom of assembly is not unlimited,” Chan said.
Wong also faces charges alongside almost 50 other activists, campaigners and politicians, for organising unofficial primaries before a since-delayed general election.
This year’s vigil on 4 June is expected to also be banned. Since the massacre more than 30 years ago, Hong Kong has held a vigil every year – the only legal commemoration in greater China and one attended by up to hundreds of thousands of people.