HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong court sentenced activist Edward Leung to six years in prison on Monday for his part in a violent nightlong clash with police over illegal street food hawkers two years ago.
Leung, 27, was among a generation of young political activists who emerged after 2014’s failed nonviolent protests over Beijing’s decision to restrict elections.
His sentence shows the hard line authorities are taking toward those advocating for more open politics in the former British colony.
The South China Morning Post reported that Lo Kin-man, charged alongside Leung, was sentenced to seven years on a conviction for rioting, while a third man, Wong Ka-kui, 27, was given a sentence of 3 ½ years.
The Feb. 8-9, 2016, outbreak of violence in the city’s working-class Mong Kok district was the most serious opposition to local authorities in decades.
Leung has been an advocate of independence for Hong Kong, which became part of China in 1997 after more than a century of British rule. China guaranteed a 50-year transition period under which Hong Kong would retain considerable autonomy and keep the rule of law and its own legal and financial system.
However, the ruling Communist Party has made it clear those liberties are limited by its bottom line on sovereignty over the territory.
Chinese President Xi Jinping warned in a speech last year that any activities in Hong Kong seen as threatening China’s sovereignty and stability would be “absolutely impermissible.”
Despite that, Hong Kong’s courts have appeared unwilling to pass sentences so harsh they might prompt questions about the territory’s relatively open society and rules-based economy.
Prison sentences for three young pro-democracy activists convicted for their roles in kicking off 2014’s “Umbrella Movement” protests were overturned earlier this year.
In an emailed statement, Hong Kong’s last British governor, Chris Patten, said he had tried to reform the ordinance under which Leung was sentenced to reduce the possibility of abuse and bring it in line with United Nations standards.
“It is disappointing to see that the legislation is now being used politically to place extreme sentences on the pan-democrats and other activists,” said Patten, who was Britain’s top official in Hong Kong until Beijing took control of the colony on July 1, 1997.