A Hong Kong court on Monday sentenced two former lawmakers to four weeks in jail for unlawful assembly inside the legislature while they were still lawmakers, further sapping the energy of political activists in the Chinese-ruled territory.
Baggio Leung, 31, and Yau Wai-ching, 26, along with three assistants, were convicted of the charge last month for scuffling with security guards at the Legislative Council in 2016.
Magistrate Wong Sze-lai said during sentencing at the Kowloon City Magistrates’ Courts that their actions had “directly damaged the legislature’s integrity,” local broadcaster RTHK reported.
Leung and Yau told local media that they would appeal. They were expected to be released on bail later on Monday.
The pair’s election victory two years ago marked a high for the youth-led “localist” movement, which promotes putting local interests first but carries undertones of Hong Kong independence.
The former British colony is officially part of China but operates with a high degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” principle.
The growth of youth-led dissent, including minority voices advocating for outright secession from the mainland, once alarmed Beijing’s Communist Party leaders, but the city’s opposition has lost much steam under China’s tightening control.
Leung and Yau lost much public support after they insulted China while taking their oaths for office, which led Beijing to intervene in an ongoing local court case about their disqualification in late 2016.
“Unlawful assembly” is one of the most common criminal charges faced by activists in the waves of prosecution following the 2014 pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement” protests, where at least tens of thousands occupied major highways for over two months to demand full democracy.
Hong Kong’s most high-profile student activist, Joshua Wong, was jailed for roughly two months for the same charge before he was freed in February by Hong Kong’s top court, which warned that future offenders in large-scale unlawful assemblies involving violence would be subject to harsher sentences.
Hong Kong laws define unlawful assembly as one where three or more people conduct themselves in a “disorderly, intimidating, insulting or provocative manner” likely to cause others to reasonably fear “a breach of the peace.”
It is “immaterial” if the original assembly was lawful if the people assembled ended up behaving in such a manner, the law stated.
The maximum jail term for a conviction is 5 years of imprisonment.