The national security law has transformed Hong Kong, remoulding the city in Beijing's authoritarian image/Anthony WALLACE/AFP.

HONG KONG, CHINA — A Hong Kong judge sentenced two members of a pro-independence group to five years in prison on Thursday, insisting there would be zero tolerance for advocating violent resistance to China.

Choi Wing-kit, 21, and Chris Chan, 26, belonged to the little-known, mostly student-led group Returning Valiant, which used social media and street booths to call for the overthrow of the city’s Beijing rulers.

They had pleaded guilty to “conspiracy to incite subversion”, under a sweeping national security law which Beijing imposed after huge and sometimes violent democracy demonstrations in 2019.

The law has transformed the city, all but ending its boisterous culture of protest and packing courtrooms with dissidents.

The Returning Valiant case is the second-largest under the security law. Among 13 members charged with either subversion or terrorism, 11 were secondary school students.

On Thursday, judge Kwok Wai-kin said the group had “promoted bloody resistance without any bottom line to overthrow the current regime”.

“This idea … is absolutely not allowed to emerge in any society,” Kwok said.

Choi and Chan’s sentencing comes after a higher court ruled serious national security crimes must be punished with a minimum of five years imprisonment.

Kwok found the pair’s offences particularly serious as the former was the group’s founder, and the latter the English interpreter who tried “to promote their ideas to international members”.

In a separate case, Choi was given six months in prison for “possession of an offensive weapon”, a collapsible baton.

In October, five Returning Valiant defendants under 21 became the first minors convicted under the security law.

During their hearings, they cited the French Revolution and Ukraine’s struggle for democratisation as inspiring their cause.

Their sentencing to detention in training centres sparked concern from the UN Human Rights Office.

Authorities have launched a separate terrorism prosecution against seven other Returning Valiant members for an alleged bomb plot, with police accusing them of trying to manufacture the powerful explosive TATP.

They face up to life in prison and will return to court in May.


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