A court in Hong Kong on Friday handed down three-year jail terms to three street food vendors for throwing things at police officers during the "fishball revolution" clashes of February 2016 in the city's Mong Kok district.
Students Hui Ka-ki, 23, and Mak Tsz-hei, 20, and chef Sit Tat-wing were jailed by the city's District Court after being found guilty of throwing items like glass bottles and bamboo poles at police officers.
Judge Sham Siu-man rejected a plea for leniency from the defense, saying that the court needed to deter others from acting similarly.
"Anyone participating in such riots needs to understand there is a cost," Sham told the court on Friday. "Violence is violence."
He said only some of the police heading for the scene of the unrest on the night of Feb. 9, 2016, were equipped with riot gear like helmets and perspex shields, and were hit by a rain of missiles from all quarters, thrown by an enraged crowd.
"There is no doubt that their lives were potentially in danger, and it is lucky that nobody was seriously injured," Sham said.
Chief Inspector Chan Shun-ching of the city police department's Organized Crime and Triad Bureau welcomed the sentences in a brief statement.
"Police welcome the court's judgement, which reflects the gravity of the case," Chan said, adding that 103 police officers had sought medical treatment on the night of the clashes.
"The court also clearly sent a message to the public that no violence will be tolerated under the laws of Hong Kong," he said.
Scores of people were arrested in the Feb. 9 Mong Kok riots, dubbed the "fishball revolution" on social media, which started after a dispute between police and unlicensed food vendors in the gritty working class district—also the scene of clashes during the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.
Police arrested 86 people in connection with the clashes, but cases against many of them have been dropped owing to lack of evidence.
Cases are proceeding against 33 suspects, including Edward Leung and Ray Wong of the localist group Hong Kong Indigenous, all of whom have been released on bail.
Wong told reporters on Friday that the government is moving to stifle dissent in bringing rioting charges against protesters.
"We should be thinking about these young people who were prepared to pay such a high price ... in today's environment, in coming out onto the streets."
"Rioting cases are still ongoing against protest movements by young people."
Pan-democratic lawmaker Claudio Mo said the sentences were too harsh.
"They were really much harsher than I had imagined they would get," Mo told reporters. "I thought they'd get a few months, but how wrong I was."
"Now, they have enshrined the notion of rioting into Hong Kong law, which has the subtext of being a warning to others," she said.
Video footage of the riots showed a large crowd throwing bricks and other objects at riot police, who fought back with pepper spray and batons, injuring an unknown number of people, including journalists.
Others set fire to debris in the street, while business owners reported damage to property.
Chinese and Hong Kong officials have described the "fishball revolution" as the work of "radical separatists."
But sociologists have cited growing reports of police brutality and a sense of disillusionment after the Occupy Central movement failed to bring about fully democratic elections in Hong Kong.
Other commentators have blamed the administration of chief executive Leung Chun-ying for heavy-handedness when dealing with dissent, rather than working to gain public trust and recognition for government policies through consensus-building.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Ding Wenqi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.