Hong Kong Jails Land Protesters After They Served Their Sentences

The department of justice retrospectively defines their protest as a riot, sending 12 people to jail for more than a year.

Raphael Wong (C), deputy head of the pan-democratic League of Social Democrats party, chants slogans during a protest on China's National Day of celebrations in Hong Kong, Oct. 1, 2016.

Hong Kong's court of appeal on Tuesday jailed a group of environmental protesters who broke into the city's legislature over government plans to build on rural land.

Those jailed included Raphael Wong, deputy head of the pan-democratic League of Social Democrats party, and Ivan Lam of Demosisto, a party formed by former leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy movement.

The group had already been found guilty of "unlawful assembly" and handed community service sentences by a magistrate, but the city's department of justice appealed on the basis that the sentences weren't stiff enough.

Twelve of the 13 activists were jailed on Tuesday for 13 months, while the 13th received a sentence of eight months.

They were protesting a controversial development plan for the northeastern part of the New Territories, which would have seen the displacement of thousands of rural residents and the demolition of several farming communities to make way for high-density residential areas.

Campaigners have argued that the government's North East New Territories Development Plan is based on flawed estimates of future population growth and includes scant provision for lower-income groups.

The loss of farmland would make Hong Kong entirely dependent on imported produce, while only property moguls will benefit from the luxury residential project.

The prosecution told the court how the group had attempted to storm the Legislative Council building, using objects such as bamboo sticks to try to force open the doors, government broadcaster RTHK reported.

The Court of Appeal "agreed that deterrent sentences were needed," it said.

Plans to appeal

Former lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, who was stripped of his seat after a controversial intervention from China's parliament last year, hit out at the sentencing.

"It is heavy-handed sentencing and I think it’s a matter for the magistrate to decide what is a suitable penalty because the magistrate is the only one who went through all the evidence and defense," Leung told journalists.

He said the group plans to appeal to a higher court.

Demosisto said the Hong Kong government has resorted to "authoritarian practices" in a case where the protesters had already served their sentences.

"The Department of Justice redefined the protest as a riot in its endeavor to suppress opposition figures," the party said in a statement on Tuesday.

"This is a serious degradation of the citizens' call to protect their own terrain and their pursuit [of] more democratic urban planning," it said.

The party said protesters would continue with civil disobedience in spite of political persecution that is "getting worse by the day."

Reported by RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.