HONG KONG — A Hong Kong activist was sentenced to six years in prison on Monday for his role in a 2016 clash between protesters and the police over unlicensed street vendors selling traditional snacks during the Lunar New Year.
The activist, Edward Leung, faced up to 10 years in prison after he was convicted last month of one count of rioting. He was found not guilty of a separate charge of inciting a riot, which prosecutors have said they will appeal.
The judge in the trial, Anthea Pang, said political causes were no justification for violence, and that the sentence would take into account only the degree of violence and the extent to which public peace had been disrupted, the Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK reported.
Another defendant, Lo Kin-man, was sentenced to seven years, and a third activist, Wong Ka-kui, pleaded guilty to rioting and was sentenced to 3 1/2 years.
Leung had previously pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer, for which he was sentenced to one year in prison, which will be served concurrently.
Leung, 27, had been a prominent representative of Hong Kong Indigenous, a group that formed after the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement and took a more confrontational approach to protecting Hong Kong’s local identity and culture in the face of growing influence from mainland China.
He agreed with the label of “radical separatist” used by the top mainland Chinese official in Hong Kong to describe those who participated in the riot. Leung had advocated Hong Kong’s independence from China, but disavowed that stance while running for the local legislature in 2016.
He won 15 percent of the vote in a by-election for a Legislative Council seat in February 2016 despite the rioting charges. He was barred from running again for another seat after an election officer questioned whether he sincerely acknowledged that Hong Kong was an “inalienable part” of China.
Hong Kong is a former British colony that was returned to China in 1997. Under the concept of “one country, two systems,” it can maintain its own local political, judicial and economic systems until at least 2047. But many people in Hong Kong fear the rapid erosion of their city’s unique character and independent institutions under the growing clout of China’s authoritarian government.
The 2016 unrest in the Mong Kok district began after activists fought with the police over fears that city inspectors were planning to shut down unlicensed vendors selling traditional snacks during the Chinese New Year holiday. At one point, a police officer fired two live rounds into the air, which the officer said was meant as a warning in order to protect a fallen colleague.
Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, said he had tried unsuccessfully in the 1990s to overhaul the public order ordinance that includes rioting offenses out of concern that vague language could be abused.
“It is disappointing to see that the legislation is now being used politically to place extreme sentences on the pan-democrats and other activists,” Patten said in a statement distributed by Hong Kong Watch, a rights group based in London.
With the sentencing of the three protesters on Monday, a total of 25 people have received a total of more than 71 years in prison in relation to the 2016 riot, according to a tally by Kong Tsung-gan, an activist and writer.
Dozens of Hong Kong activists have also been convicted of offenses that occurred during the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests. Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal threw out the prison sentences of three Umbrella Movement leaders in February while affirming tough sentencing guidelines for future incidents that “cross the line of acceptability.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.