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2019 riot: Hong Kong court convicts 4

FILE – Protesters gather inside the meeting hall after breaking in to the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019. PHOTO: AP

HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong court on Thursday convicted four people for rioting over the storming of the city’s legislative council building at the height of the anti-government protests more than four years ago.

The break-in on July 1 in 2019 — the 22nd anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China – was one of the most chaotic episodes of the massive protests sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill.

Hundreds of protesters swarmed into the legislature that night, defacing pictures and smashing furniture. Some spray-painted slogans in the chamber and painted over the territory’s emblem on a wall before vacating the site as riot police cleared surrounding streets with tear gas and then moved inside. The legislature eventually spent about HKD36 million (USD4.6 million) on repairing the damages, the court heard earlier.

Six defendants, including actor Gregory Wong and two reporters Wong Ka-ho and Ma Kai-chung, last year pleaded not guilty to rioting.

On Thursday, judge Li Chi-ho said four of the six defendants, including Gregory Wong, were found guilty of rioting. Wong Ka-ho and Ma were acquitted of the rioting charge but were convicted for unlawful entry into the legislature.

Li said in his written judgement that there was a directive to ask all people to leave and disagreed that reporters were exempted from it. He added it was a “wrong idea” for Wong Ka-ho to think that reporters can stay there to document the developments.

The 2019 protests were sparked by a proposed extradition law that would have allowed Hong Kong criminal suspects to be sent to the mainland for trial. The government withdrew the bill, but the protesters widened their demands to include direct elections for the city’s leaders and police accountability.

The social movement was the biggest challenge against the Hong Kong government since the city’s handover in 1997 and triggered Beijing to impose a national security law in 2020 to quell it. Following the introduction of the security law, many of the city’s leading activists were arrested, silenced or forced into self-exile.

More than 10,200 people were arrested in connection to the protests for various crimes, such as rioting and participating in an unauthorised assembly.

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