Four Hong Kong men were convicted of rioting Thursday over the storming and ransacking of the city’s legislature in 2019, part of a pro-democracy movement that posed an unprecedented challenge to the Beijing-backed government.
It was the most violent episode in the initial stage of the huge protests that upended the financial hub that year and eventually prompted Beijing to impose a sweeping national security law that snuffed out dissent.
Hundreds of protesters broke into the legislature on the night of July 1, 2019, smashing windows and spraying graffiti on what was the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain back to China.
A total of 14 people were later charged with rioting — which carries a punishment of up to 10 years in jail — and various minor offences such as entering the Legislative Council chamber and criminal damage.
Eight had pleaded guilty to the rioting charge, including Althea Suen, a former student leader of the University of Hong Kong, and localist activists Ventus Lau and Owen Chow.
Six others, including two journalists and actor Gregory Wong, pleaded not guilty and have stood trial since last May.
On Thursday, deputy district court judge Li Chi-ho found four of the six, but not the two reporters, guilty of rioting.
Five were convicted of entering the legislative chamber, an offence carrying up to three months in jail, and the sixth was also found guilty of criminal damage, which could carry up to 10 years in prison.
Judge Li ruled that an evacuation order by the legislature that day also applied to reporters.
He revoked bail for all six defendants after announcing the verdicts, reserving his full judgement for a later date.
More than 10,000 people were arrested as authorities sought to extinguish the 2019 protests, which erupted over government legislation that would have opened the door to criminal suspects being tried on the mainland.
In 2020, Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong that outlawed most dissent and crushed the democracy movement.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s leader John Lee announced that the city would create a new homegrown security law to combat “threats posed by external forces and local terrorism”.
The law will add offences including insurrection and external interference to the list of crimes falling under national security.