The leading Hong Kong independence activist Edward Leung was handed a six-year jail term on Monday for his involvement in some of the city’s worst protest violence for decades.
Leung was convicted in May of rioting for his part in the 2016 running battles with police when demonstrators hurled bricks and set rubbish alight in the commercial district of Mong Kok.
Handing down the sentence, Judge Anthea Pang said Leung had actively participated in the riots, and described his actions as “wanton and vicious”.
The 27-year-old was already in custody after pleading guilty in January to a separate charge of assaulting a police officer during the 2016 clashes and being sentenced to one year in jail.
The two terms will be served concurrently.
After the failure of the largely peaceful 2014 Umbrella Movement to win democratic reform for semi-autonomous Hong Kong, Leung had promoted using force to put pressure on Chinese authorities.
His message struck a chord as concern grew that Hong Kong’s cherished freedoms were under threat in a number of areas, from politics to media and education.
In February 2016, Leung won 66,000 votes in a local by-election, seen as a huge victory for the independence movement even though he did not win.
Thousands then turned out for the city’s first pro-independence rally in August 2016, with Leung one of the main organisers and speakers.
Judge Pang said the court would not admit political reasons as a mitigating factor, adding that punishment must be a “deterrent”.
Leung, who was in court, looked calm throughout the hearing and waved at supporters — some of whom reacted emotionally to the sentence — before being led away.
Two other protesters were sentenced alongside Leung to seven years and three-and-a-half years in prison.
At least 16 people have been jailed over the clashes, with terms of up to four years and nine months for a man convicted of rioting and arson. Unlike Leung, none was a known activist.
The 2016 protest began as a seemingly innocuous rally to protect illegal hawkers from health inspectors, but it quickly morphed into an outpouring of anger against authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing.
Police fired warning shots in the air as the unrest worsened and scores of people, including officers, were injured, with dozens arrested.
It was later dubbed the “Fishball Revolution” after one of the city’s best-loved street snacks.
Since then, city authorities loyal to Beijing have sought to muzzle any advocacy of a split from China.
Leung was among several hopefuls banned from running for office in the September 2016 public elections, despite signing a controversial new form declaring Hong Kong is an “inalienable” part of China.
He later walked into a government briefing for election candidates and raised his middle finger at the speakers before departing to cheers and chanting from hundreds of supporters outside.
Two pro-independence activists who were allowed to stand in the vote were later barred for protesting during their oaths of office, after an intervention from Beijing.
Four more moderate pro-democracy legislators were also subsequently disqualified from the partially-elected parliament.
A dejected Leung moved away from politics to study in the US and announced he was stepping down as head of Hong Kong Indigenous at the end of last year to spend more time with his family before his trial.
Leung turned 27 behind bars earlier this month.