HONG KONG • Three young Hong Kong protesters were jailed for three years yesterday on "riot" charges for their part in anti-China protests last year, as tensions rise ahead of a vote for the city's next leader.
The sentencing came just over a week before a vote for Hong Kong's new chief executive, which pro-democracy campaigners dismiss as a rigged election weighted towards Beijing. Activists have said they will come out in protest on March 26, the day of the leadership selection, which is made by a committee of 1,194 mainly pro-establishment members of special interest groups.
The three activists jailed yesterday had taken part in the "fishball riots" of February last year, which tapped fears that Beijing was tightening its grip on semi-autonomous Hong Kong. All three are 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.
"Anyone participating in such riots needs to understand there is a cost," said district court judge Sham Siu Man.
The defence had argued that the three protesters - two of whom were students and one reported to be a cook - had been expressing their disapproval of the Hong Kong government, which activists decry as a puppet of Beijing.
COST OF RIOTING
Anyone participating in such riots needs to understand there is a cost.
DISTRICT COURT JUDGE SHAM SIU MAN, as he delivered the sentence, the harshest handed out to those who took part in the "fishball riots" last year.
But "violence is violence", the judge said as he delivered the sentence to the grim-faced accused - Hui Ka Ki, 23, Mak Tsz Hei, 20, and Sit Tat Wing, 33 - who were then led away.
The judge added that all three had hurled glass bottles, with Mak throwing bamboo poles at officers.
The clashes erupted after official attempts to remove illegal hawkers from the busy commercial neighbourhood of Mong Kok during Chinese New Year celebrations. The battles were dubbed the fishball revolution after a favourite Hong Kong street snack sold by the hawkers, and reflected underlying tensions over the erosion of the city's traditions.
Police fired warning shots into the air, while protesters hurled bricks levered up from pavements, charged police lines with homemade shields and set rubbish on fire. About 100 people were injured, including police officers, journalists and protesters, and 65 were arrested in the rare outbreak of violence.
Mong Kok, in the city's Kowloon peninsula, was the scene of some of the worst clashes during largely peaceful mass pro-democracy Umbrella Movement rallies in 2014, which failed to win political reform.
Yesterday's sentencing was the harshest handed out to those who took part in the fishball demonstrations, and the first convictions for rioting. Three other participants were sentenced to between three months and nine months on lesser charges last year.