Activists in Hong Kong have vowed to press ahead with plans for demonstrations during the selection process for the Chinese territory's chief executive this weekend, in spite of a two-month jail term handed down to a veteran pro-democracy legislator and fellow protesters.
The Kowloon City Magistrate's Court on Tuesday found outspoken political activist Leung Kwok-hung, known by his nickname "Long Hair," guilty of disorderly conduct during a public protest last September, along with five other people.
The two-month jail term could mean Leung faces expulsion from the territory's Legislative Council if his appeal is unsuccessful.
Leung was found guilty along with five other protesters who pushed their way into a consultation session on electoral procedures, scuffling with security guards and attendees.
Leung told reporters outside the court that he had "no regrets."
"You can lock up my body, but you can't lock up my soul," he said.
Leung said it was unfair of the court to impose such a heavy sentence on him as he simply staged the rally to voice opposition to the government's by-election proposals.
Newspaper columnist Wong Yeung-tat, mechanic Yung Wai-tong, and students Tang Kin-wa and Daisy Chan Sin-ying were also sentenced.
Protests will proceed
Chan, a student activist from the Chinese University of Hong Kong who is currently appealing her conviction, said students planned to go ahead anyway with their protests at the "closed circle" election methods used to select Hong Kong's next leader.
"I'm very grateful, because a lot of my friends, classmates, and teachers have spoken up in support of this," said Chan, a prominent student activist.
"I'm not in this battle alone."
The sentences came amid warnings that thousands of protesters could take to the streets of Hong Kong this weekend to protest against the "closed circle" elections.
More than 30 civic, student, and pro-democracy groups have said they are planning to demonstrate.
The 1,200-member election committee, which is controlled by pro-Beijing members, will cast their votes to choose between candidates Henry Tang and Leung Chun-ying, both of whose campaigns have been tainted by scandal.
Tang and Leung took vicious aim at each other in a televised public debate this week, although both are elite political insiders with close ties to Beijing.
Anger at Beijing
Popular anger over Beijing's unwillingness to allow elections through universal suffrage is likely to find expression on the streets, amid widespread outrage at a perceived lack of integrity in both candidates.
Democratic lawmaker Albert Ho is also formally in the running, but is believed to have no chance of victory in a race which is essentially decided in Beijing.
Tang's campaign has been marred by a scandal over an illegal basement extension to his home and rumors of marital infidelity, while Leung is under investigation over allegations of conflict of interest.
Incumbent Donald Tsang has also been slammed in the local media in recent weeks for taking favors from local tycoons, including trips on private jets.
Former civil service chief Anson Chan said the chief executive selection process was a "sorry spectacle" which made Hong Kong a "laughing stock."
She said the concerns over the integrity of both candidates represent "a crisis of governance."
"It is, I think, symptomatic of both overt and covert chipping away at our values, at Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy, of Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong," Chan said in an interview with Reuters.
Under the terms of its 1997 handover from British rule, Hong Kong was promised the continuation of existing freedoms of expression and association for 50 years.
But journalists fear that media organizations in the territory may nevertheless be highly susceptible to self-censorship, for fear of angering powerful corporations or high-ranking officials in mainland China.
Hong Kong has seen a number of outspoken radio personalities depart from key talk shows in the years since the handover of sovereignty to Beijing, while China's own dissidents in exile have repeatedly been denied permission to enter the territory, which administers its own immigration controls.
Hong Kong's residents are becoming increasingly frustrated with Beijing’s approach to governing the territory, saying the central government is dragging its feet on commitments made during the handover.
Only half of Hong Kong's lawmakers are elected, while the remainder are drawn from district legislators and functional constituencies which favor the territory's business communities and pro-China groups.
Reported by Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.