A court in Hong Kong on Friday jailed seven police officers guilty of assaulting pro-democracy politician Ken Tsang during the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement for two years apiece.
Chief Inspector Wong Cho-shing, Senior Inspector Lau Cheuk-ngai, Detective Sergeant Pak Wing-bun, police constable Lau Hing-pui, and detective constables Wong Wai-ho and Kwan Ka-ho were convicted by the city's District Court on Tuesday of kicking, punching, and stepping on Tsang after he was arrested and handcuffed during clashes in October 2014.
Detective constable Chan Siu-tan was given an additional month for common assault, for slapping Tsang twice at Central Police Station.
While the seven were found guilty of common assault and causing actual bodily harm, they were acquitted of the more serious charge of causing grievous bodily harm.
Crowds of rival supporters faced off outside the court buildings as the sentences were passed, with some shouting "We support the police upholding the law!" and "Serious punishment for the organizers of Occupy Central!"
Judge David Dufton said it was appropriate that the seven should serve time in prison, as they had "not only brought dishonor to the Hong Kong Police Force, they have also damaged Hong Kong’s reputation in the international community, the assault having been widely viewed around the world and reported as front-page news in a number of countries."
Tsang welcomed the sentences, telling reporters on Friday: "I have waited more than two years for this, which is a very small victory for civil society in its struggle against police brutality."
"But I hope people will continue the struggle for universal suffrage," he said in a reference to the main goal of the Occupy Central movement.
He called for a number of other cases involving allegations of police brutality to be brought to justice.
The sentencing was rapidly criticized by police unions and a pro-Beijing lawmaker, who called Dufton a "white-skinned judge with a yellow heart," in a reference to the yellow umbrellas of the 2014 pro-democracy movement.
The defense had argued for suspended sentences, saying they had received more than a thousand letters pleading for leniency and citing the officers' previous record and the "unique circumstances" of the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement.
However, Judge Dufton said stress was still no justification for the assault on Tsang, saying the assault was vicious, and could have resulted in much more serious injuries.
"The defendants, serving police officers who in the execution of their duty took Tsang to the substation to assault him; the multiplicity of the injuries sustained by Tsang as a result of the assault; and the damage to Hong Kong’s reputation make this, in my view, a very serious case," the judge said.
At least two of the officers are considering appealing their sentence, government broadcaster RTHK reported.
Wong's defense attorney Lawrence Lok told reporters his client would definitely be appealing against his conviction, however.
"I haven't had chance to discuss it yet, but we will definitely be appealing the conviction," Lok said.
The seven policemen were filmed by news media as they kicked and punched him in a dimly lit corner of Tamar Park in the early hours of October 15, 2014.
The attack left Tsang, a social worker and former member of the pro-democracy Civic Party, with injuries to his face, neck, chest and back.
Joe Chan, who heads the Junior Police Officers' Association, said many in the union are "struggling to accept" the ruling.
He said the union would collect funds to assist the officers, and said some of his colleagues wanted to stage a protest over the sentencing.
"I feel proud to be a police officer," Chan told journalists.
Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said had "mixed feelings and a heavy heart" over the sentencing.
Meanwhile, pro-Beijing members of the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) said the sentences were too heavy.
Pro-Beijing legislator Wong Kwok-kin said the sentences were the result of a "white-skinned" judge having a "yellow heart."
A group of supporters of the seven police officers said they planned to demonstrate against their sentences on Saturday.
But Tsang supporter Lei Yuk-luen said the sentences were appropriate.
"The judge got the sentencing right, and the seven police officers will go to jail," Lei said. "Everyone is equal before the law, right?"
"If the judge hadn't done this, then that would be wrong."
Reported by Lee Lai for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Ding Wenqi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.